9/30/2011 1:35:04 PM
In my younger days, I never seemed to have a valid driver’s license on election day. Either I’d just moved to the neighborhood, or more likely I never got around to updating the address on my ID when I had moved 12 months before. Happily, a utility bill sufficed as proof of residence in one instance; in another, my neighbor vouched for me. That one always struck me as genius: In Minnesota, a registered voter may pledge an oath that up to 15 other voters live in his or her precinct. In this age of microchipped pets and smartphone barcode scanning apps, it’s wonderfully old school to know that something as prosaic as facial recognition fuels the democratic process.
However, 30 states are trying to mandate voter ID requirements that will overturn these inclusive policies. “While this may strike some as a relatively minor technical adjustment in voting security, what is really going on is far more significant,” writes David Carroll Cochran America: The National Catholic Weekly (Aug 1, 2011) in an article about how the new voter ID laws subvert democracy. “There are two things to know about this campaign. First, the [voter fraud] problem it points to does not exist. Second, the real purpose of its proposed solution is to keep certain kinds of American citizens from exercising their legitimate right to vote.” These citizens include the young, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and women. Note that Texas law will prohibit university IDs but allow a concealed handgun permit to be used. As Cochran explains:
Photo ID laws do allow those who do not have a driver’s license to present an alternative ID, but this must be obtained well before election day. To acquire such an ID, they need to collect documents like a certified birth certificate, take time off work (for the poor, usually unpaid time) and find a way to get to county offices to wait in line for the ID. Political science has long established that requiring additional steps for such voters, especially steps that are time-consuming and inconvenient, will reduce the rate at which that group votes. Voter identification laws clearly have this effect. Studies show that while they do not prevent fraud, they do significantly lower turnout among Democratic-leaning groups, especially low-income African-American and Hispanic voters.
The U.S. Constitution originally restricted the vote based on race, sex, and wealth (granting it only to white male landowners), but we’ve come a long way since then. “Conservative legislatures in 30 states are attempting to turn the clock back,” reports HERvotes, a feminist campaign seeking to protect advances in women’s rights. “As many as 32 million women of voting age do not have documentation with their current legal name.”
Keep in mind that voting for our leaders is not a privilege but a sacred right. A disenfranchised person’s vote has the same weight as that of a wealthy and powerful person—and that’s the way it should remain.
Images by kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop) and adria.richards,
licensed under Creative Commons.
9/22/2011 11:12:36 AM
Irascible, hard-digging journalist Chris Hedges tells The Progressive in an interview that both Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were on to something, and their dystopic visions are neither far fetched nor incompatible:
“I used to wonder: Is Huxley right or is Orwell right? It turns out they’re both right. First you get the new world state [Brave New World] and endless diversions as you are disempowered. And then, as we are watching, credit dries up, and the cheap manufactured goods of the consumer society are no longer cheap. Then you get the iron fist of Oceania, of Orwell’s 1984.
“That’s precisely the process that’s happened. We have been very effectively pacified by the pernicious ideology of a consumer society that is centered on the cult of the self—an undiluted hedonism and narcissism. That has become a very effective way to divert our attention while the country is reconfigured into a kind of neofeudalism, with a rapacious oligarchic elite and an anemic government that no longer is able to intercede on behalf of citizens but cravenly serves the interests of the oligarchy itself.”
Whew. Hedges also critiques President Barack Obama as “seduced by power and prestige,” describes being booed off the stage at a college commencement for speaking out against the Iraq War, and explains that Americans have some growing up to do. It’s hard stuff, but in the end he tips his hand—he’s doing it all for his new baby girl:
“What kind of a world are we going to leave the next generation? I, at least, want my children to look back and say, ‘My daddy was being arrested at the White House fence and booed off commencement stages. He was trying.’”
Source: The Progressive
(full article available to subscribers only)
, licensed under
Panel image by Shepard Fairey.
9/22/2011 11:03:10 AM
Troy Davis—the man about whose case former FBI director William S. Sessions has written “What quickly will become apparent is that serious questions about Davis’ guilt, highlighted by witness recantations, allegations of police coercion and a lack of relevant physical evidence, continue to plague his conviction”—was executed by the state of Georgia last night at 11:08pm.
Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing a police officer. There’s not much I can add to the discussion around this case. If you’re looking for insightful writing on it, there’s Mother Jones’coverage, this from The Nation editors, an impassioned plea at In These Times, and of course Amnesty International, which has used Davis’ visage in their campaign to abolish the death penalty. There, too, is the video below of Democracy Now’sAmy Goodman reporting from Georgia last night.
As many others have stated, this execution is not only about Troy Davis. It is, and especially now should be, a time to reflect on this country’s use of the death penalty. To add to that conversation, here are some articles from our November-December 2010 issue about capital punishment in the U.S.
interviews legendary capital punishment opponent Sister Helen Prejean:
According to Amnesty International, 93 percent of the world’s executions take place in five countries: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States. Why is our government on such a list?
The death penalty is a natural outgrowth of our long history of using violence to achieve our ends. We’re a very young country, and violence has worked for us in the past. It began with the settling of this continent and the genocide against Native Americans, then continued when we brought slaves over.
Continue reading >>
The Texas Observer’s Robert Leleux takes a very hard look at executions in the Lone Star State:
One of the things about the death penalty is that, because convicted killers (for a whole variety of reasons) aren’t typically white, middle-class honor students, with reputations for being kindly, wholesome people, it’s very easy for middle-class people like me to presume that folks on death row are people from “over there.” Folks from another, meaner America—that hard, irredeemable underbelly of the nation’s poverty and crime. You know, the kind of place you see on Cops.
Of course, there are so many things wrong with this presumption that it’s hard to know where to begin.
Continue reading >>
And finally, as an online extra to those two articles, here is a blog post with a number of resources from around the web about executions in the U.S.
Source: Democracy Now!, Mother Jones, In These Times, Amnesty International, The Sun, The Nation, The Texas Observer
Image by World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/15/2011 4:25:17 PM
The data on the poor in this country announced Tuesday by the Census Bureau was not good, and due to measures already taken by Congress and those likely to come, the outlook doesn’t provide much reason for hope. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones gives some of the “lowlights”:
The overall poverty rate has reached a record high and the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, below 50 percent of the poverty level, or $11,000 for a family of four—is the highest it’s been since 1975. Experts are predicting that things are only going to get worse in the years to come….
Median income has sunk lower than it was almost 15 years ago. The number of people living without health insurance is up slightly. The number of kids under the age of six living in extreme poverty is up to nearly 12 percent. The recession has been especially hard on women and people of color. The extreme poverty rate for women is more than 6 percent, the highest recorded in 22 years, and the poverty rate for black women is up a percentage point from 2009, to more than 25 percent.
In These Times’ David Moberg continues:
But it is especially painful because it follows what many are calling a “lost decade” for the majority of Americans. The median household income peaked in 1999 at $53,252, then dropped in most of the following years, never recovering its pre-recession high. Likewise, even during the recovery of the Bush years, poverty levels crept upwards. The big exception was the very rich, who captured most of the new income generated as productivity of the economy rose and inequality continued to grow.
All this while we learn, as associate editor Margret Aldrich wrote on her Sweet Pursuit blog last week, “Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.”
Unfortunately we see that’s not happening, leaving The Take Away this morning to ask the discouraging question, “Does America Care About Its Poor?” Though The Take Away left it up to listeners, the answer seems to be, for the most part, no. That said, Moberg at In These Times does point out that “bad as these numbers are, they would have been much worse if many government programs and policies had not been in place,” including unemployment insurance, The Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and the Obama administration’s stimulus programs. (I don’t know how many times economists and others have to point out that the only problem with Obama’s stimulus was that is simply wasn’t big enough before it will be okay to use the word “stimulus” again. But I digress.) Still, “welfare” programs aren’t what they used to be. “Evidence suggests,” writes Jarret Murphy in City Limits, “that today’s needy families are, in large measure, not getting the help to which they are legally entitled. In 1996, for every 100 families that were in poverty, 79 were on welfare. In 2010, the figure was 28, according to the CBPP [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].” LaDonna Pavetti, the vice president for family income support policy at the CBPP is quoted as saying, “It’s just truly people are not being served. And it’s not because we’ve had this incredible decline in poverty.” Point proven by the recent Census data.
But now the conversation in Washington is switching back to jobs, so everything should be just fine, right? We’ve gotten our priorities straight, so we can figure out how to fix the problem. Not so fast. Writing about the declining middle class in The Atlantic, Don Peck writes that the jobs that are coming down the pike will be low-skill, low-wage jobs, jobs like the ones highlighted a decade ago by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed and now touted (though not in so many words) by the possible Republican presidential candidate from Texas. In short, jobs that won’t bring people up out of poverty and back into any sort of middle class. “[T]he overall pattern of change in the U.S. labor market suggests,” Peck writes,
that in the next decade or more, a larger proportion of Americans may need to take work in occupations that have historically required little skill and paid low wages. Analysis by David Autor indicates that from 1999 to 2007, low-skill jobs grew substantially as a share of all jobs in the United States. And while the lion’s share of jobs lost during the recession were middle-skill jobs, job growth since then has been tilted steeply toward the bottom of the economy; according to a survey by the National Employment Law Project, three-quarters of American job growth in 2010 came within industries paying, on average, less than $15 an hour. One of the largest challenges that Americans will face in the coming years will be doing what we can to make the jobs that have traditionally been near the bottom of the economy better, more secure, and more fulfilling—in other words, more like middle-class jobs.
Peck’s article offers a number of suggestions about how to regain a middle class and avoid further separation between those at the top and those at the bottom. Unfortunately, nothing so serious as his article seems to be on the table in Washington discussions. And it’s Americans who are paying for it.
Audio from The Take Away with guest Photojouranlist Steve Liss, director of AmericanPoverty.org:
Source: Mother Jones, In These Times, The Take Away, City Limits, The Atlantic
Image by sylvar, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/8/2011 4:21:38 PM
“Except for the occasional vehicle, Barbulesti resembles Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel’s paintings of 16th-century peasant life: Animals and humans wander along rutted dirt streets lined with wood and stone houses. It is in these impoverished, tucked-away places that the Roma are most often found.”
The village of Barbulesti is where writer Ben Judah begins his profile of the modern Roma people, also known by the pejorative “gypsies.” Judah meets teenage Roma deported from France, families “living like the last survivors after a nuclear holocaust—in the middle of a functioning E.U. welfare state,” and odd “traditional leaders” including the “emperor of the gypsies on a throne in a dingy corner next to a buzzing refrigerator.”
Judah paints a sad picture of a people who seem to have been forgotten at best and at worst intentionally pushed aside. His portrait, which appears in Moment magazine, is not unique. Last fall in The Virginia Quarterly Review, J. Malcolm Garcia wrote a similarly bleak, if not more depressing, account of the Roma living in the Osterode Resettlement Camp where “cold winds carry lead-filled dust from a nearby slagheap, a hundred million tonnes of toxic tailings, and scatter it on clothes hanging from laundry lines, on open buckets of drinking water, on the dirt children play in.” He continues:
[A]lmost everyone agrees that moving Roma families next to a toxic slagheap, onto land highly contaminated with lead, zinc, arsenic, and other metals, has caused dozens of families to suffer severe health problems and spawned a generation of brain-damaged children.
Lead blackens the children’s teeth, blanks out their memory, and stunts their growth. Other symptoms of lead poisoning include aggressive behavior, nervousness, dizziness, vomiting, and high fever. The children swing between bursts of nervous hyperactivity and moody depression; they have fainting spells and epileptic fits.
While Garcia’s account of the resettlement camps and the toxins slowly poisoning the people who live there will turn your stomach, Judah’s tale will leave you dizzy, wondering, as the writer does, just where the Roma belong in the modern world. “Europe continues to march into the future,” Judah writes, “but the Roma road seems to be veering in its own direction, neither forward nor back.”
Source: Moment, VQR
Image by evib, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/6/2011 4:07:59 PM
As the tenth anniversary of September 11th approaches, writer and blogger Courtney E. Martin reflects on seven ways in which that fateful day shaped the millennial generation of which she is a part.
We are fundamentally practical.
For many of us, 9/11 was a wake-up call about the precious and finite nature of human life. For better or worse, many of us gravitated away from artistic dreams, or romantic notions of living abroad, far from our families, and hunkered down. Even our approaches to social change are often scoffed at by our authority-resisting parents, who see our focus on actionable goals as sometimes less-than-radical.
- We are sector agnostic in our good works.
Relatedly, we are known for conceiving of meaningful and world-improving work very widely. Just because one cares about making the world more just, doesn’t mean one becomes a lawyer or a social worker; it might also mean going to business school and becoming a social entrepreneur or becoming a chef and getting involved in the local food movement.
- We are distrustful of organized religion and Politics.
Though we are open to most vocations, we are—according to sociologist Robert Putnam—the least religiously affiliated generation in history, and also largely uninterested in becoming politicians. In part, no doubt, this stems from seeing religion distorted and political leaders let off the hook for profound failures during the post-9/11 era.
- We are resilient as a matter of survival.
Two recent studies, one in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and one in Psychology & Health, have proven that there is actual validity to the old adage that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Millenials who have faced national disasters like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, not to mention the economic downturn, have flexed their resilience over and over again.
- We think globally and systemically.
Quite obviously, one couldn’t experience the world’s ever contracting quality over the last decade—enhanced by the internet and the connectivity it offers—without conceiving of citizenship in a truly global and interdependent way. We know what we do in Colorado Springs can have a direct effect in what goes on in Cairo.
- We innovate when it comes to disaster relief.
Struck by the successes and failures of post-9/11 relief work—from the physical rebuilding to the more amorphous rebuilding of the human spirit—we have contributed much to the field of disaster response. From the pro bono architecture movement that gets better at responding to immediate infrastructure needs to the innovations in crowdsourced mapping that helps rescue workers figure out where people are and what they need, we are changing the way the world experiences trauma.
- We know that multiculturalism is about much more than just tolerance.
Though we grew up with an often wishy washy approach to diversity, highlighted by the notion of “tolerance,” we have rejected that in favor of more rigorous race and class analysis—evidenced by so many astute publications, like Racialicious and Colorlines—and an effort to really face and engage with the most polarizing issues in a civil way. We know too much about the potential outcomes of just “tolerating” one another to do otherwise.
Courtney E. Martin is the co-author of the recently released Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.
Image from Courtney E. Martin's December 2010 TEDWomen talk.
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