Sunday, November 25, 2007

Modern Day Disenfranchisement - Part 1

Funny how the battleground states for picture ID in order to vote are mostly in the south. I'm sure it is just an accident of geography. While poll taxes were outlawed as part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Federal District Judge W. Allen Pepper in Mississippi says that party affiliation and voter identification rules must be implemented in time for the 2009 elections.

Robin Carnahan, Secretary of State for Missouri is currently challenging a law requiring voter identification in the courts. She is joined by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox and former Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis.

We all know Hans von Spakovsky's role in Georgia and Arizona. Now he is being nominated for a permanent position on the Federal Elections Commission. The Georgia law was especially egregious in that the ID cards could only be purchased for $20 from the Department of Motor Vehicles offices. Arizona in 2004 passed Proposition 200 which had stringent voter identification rules attached.

Finally, there is a report on the impact of these laws upon Latin, Black and Asian voters. The report was written by three professors in Washington, California, and New Mexico. It is relatively short, but well worth the time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Incompetence is the Excuse

I think the Bush administration is having us on. First it was passports. Remember, now you have to have a passport to return to the United States from the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. But most Americans didn't have passports. So did the State Department do the easy thing and ask the airlines how many people fly back into the States from those destinations? Of course not. As my mother would say, "Too much like right."

Now it is Homeland Security's turn. First, you raise the fees nearly 66% and give everyone six months notice of the change in price. Then, like State, you don't hire enough staff to handle the expected rush.

But this little bit of "incompetence" has the whiff of preventing minorities from participating in the next Presidential election. Due to the unrelenting demonization of immigrants by the likes of Lou Dobbs and Rep Tom Tancredo, most of these new citizens-to-be are expected to vote for a Democrat (as if there weren't enough other reasons to throw those Republican rascals out!). But now a process that used to take months is expected to take years. While Immigration officials say that politics is not part of the calculation, who can believe them? After all, we've seen what happened to the Justice Department.

I bet every part of government has been corrupted by this administration. I was never a fan of Bush. In fact, it took the 2004 election for me to be able to call him the President. But even cynical me had no idea it would be this bad.

But incompetence? No, this crowd has very competently ruined America. Starting with the government, through the economy, and even our reputation in the world. And it only took eight years! This was very well thought out and handled just right. Katrina was a lapse in that someone forgot to pull the curtain and the world could see back stage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voting by Mail

I used to love going to the polls to vote. But then the poll workers in my precinct got older and I had to show them where my name was located on the rolls. That was okay. But when I started voting for candidates based on something like gender, I knew I had to change.

So I began voting by mail. It made my life easier because I could have all of the voting information, whether partisan (sent by the candidates or their supporters) or non partisan (the Voters Pamphlet at my side.

Now I'm an overseas voter and so I must vote by mail. And after reading about all of the problems with voting machines, I'm glad that I have a piece of paper which can be tracked and verified.

However, I can't believe that the same failed voting machine companies (they just seem to change their names) are involved with the absentee counting. I don't trust Diebold, ES&S, or any of the other companies.

If you think I'm paranoid, ask the Secretaries of State in California (a Democrat) or Colorado (a Republican). They have the same concerns and issues.

I don't believe there was fraud in the 2004 election. But I do think that expecting to track hundreds of thousands of ballots with no mishaps is naive. I don't know of any agency or organization that can do so.

We need to work together to reinstill trust in our elections and accusing hard working staff of deliberate fraud isn't the way to go.


I published an unedited version of this on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's web site earlier today. After some thinking about the subject I made some edits.

Greek Justice

The headline on last Thursday's Kathimerini read Furlough Rules More Stringent. I had seen these headlines before and didn't bother to read the latest outrage until this morning.

Greek criminal justice is probably the area of the greatest culture shock for me.
  • People can pay a heftier fine in lieu of actually serving their prison sentence.
  • Soccer hooligans have these vicious fights that leave people injured (sometimes severely), but they have their sentences suspended. This has recently been reformed so that they have to actually serve some time.
  • Police and prison guards are not allowed to shoot people unless their lives are endangered (this is one rule I'd like to take back to the US).
  • The bribery and corruption of judges and prosecutors seems to just go on and on. The latest set of trials has lasted nearly two years, it seems.
  • Because of the actions of The Colonels, also known as the Greek Junta (the military dictatorship that ran Greece from 1967 to 1974) and their brutal suppression of a student demonstration at the Polytechnic University on November 17, 1973 - Greek universities are sanctuaries and the police have to be invited to enter. Well that means that they are never invited to enter and young Greek anarchists take full advantage of this fact.
Prisoners are routinely let out of prison on furlough and are expected to return to their cells at the end of their vacation (furlough). Most do, but many don't. Some of those furloughed have been convicted of violent crimes, like murder.

This particular prisoner was "a repeat child rapist on the run since 1999. He was serving a 25 year sentence for sexually abusing a minor in 1994 when he disappeared on leave. He had been previously sentenced to another two years for a similar crime in 1989..."

All I can say is WTF?

The article goes on to say that they're going to clamp down on vacations (furloughs) for repeat offenders. But what about violent crimes in general? I understand compassion - hell, I'm an admitted "bleeding heart liberal," but this is nonsensical. If better prisions are needed or the prisons are overcrowded and this furlough serves as a stress release, there must be a better way.

I'm waiting for the day when I'll read that the whole furlough concept has been reformed so that repeat and violent and/or sexual predators have lost their right to a vacation from their prison sentence. I'm sure the victims of these people are also waiting.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Colorado and Women

The Colorado Supreme Court has just decided that voters can give legal rights to fertilized eggs.

The measure, just one paragraph long, would ask voters whether inalienable rights, due process rights and equality of justice rights as defined in the state Constitution should be extended to “any human being from the moment of fertilization.”

I don't know for sure, but I'm betting this is a male dominated court. Why? Menstruation is the most common "killer" of fertilized eggs. So, will women in Colorado be forced to stop menses? I understand that controlling women's bodies makes people feel they are able to control women.

I experience this here in Greece in another way. The bathrooms are strictly 14th century. Seriously. Most public restrooms have toilet brushes so one can clean up after themselves, but if there is a seat included, it is unusual. Some toilets, especially those in the schools are tiled foot place holders and one has to squat to do one's business. I've been told it was healthier when girls only wore skirts -- but girls don't wear skirts all the time anymore. Really old women still do.

Because this manner of behavior has gone on for so long, even Greek women think this is the way it should be. I remember using the toilet in a relative's home and there was no seat. Suddenly, several years later, there was. When asked why, I was told the old seat was broken and it was too expensive to buy a seat. But the kids had designer jeans and cell phones.

So, maybe the goal is to train women to stop menses and become pregnant every month...who knows, after several centuries we may think this is how it should be.

When Words Mean More than Actions

One of the things that my mother stressed over and over again was that actions speak louder than words. I think she was really hoping that this was so, because it seems to me that if you have enough power, no one bothers you if your actions don't match your words at all.

Take the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian governments and their peoples.

Israel is waiting for Hamas to say that they recognize Israel's right to exist and will observe all of the agreements that have been made by their predecessors. But Israel never says that it recognizes Palestine's right to exist.

Israel says that it will cease building settlements, but it never happens. And there seems to be no consequences for saying one thing and doing another.

Roger Cohen gives a wonderful example of what I'm talking about today:

Eyes to the future, I refuse to allow the latest fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah to make me despondent, even when Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, tells me in a phone call that: “Without unification of the West Bank and Gaza, Abbas cannot represent the Palestinian side at Annapolis.”

Zahar, a doctor, predicts the get-together in Annapolis, Md., will be “a unique example of failure.” He counters my inquiries about a Hamas recognition of Israel with three questions:

“First, what is the border of Israel? And what happens to Jerusalem? And what happens to Palestinian refugees in the camps?”

Of course, those questions are never considered to be as important as " Hamas recognizing Israel." But Arafat recognized Israel and even agreed to the Oslo Peace Accords. And we all know how that ended. There is plenty of blame to go around, for sure. But Israeli transgressions don't seem to count in the overall scheme of the world.

I'm a huge fan of Juan Cole and his new group blog, Informed Comment Global Affairs. Here's one example of why.

Ehud Olmert stated on Monday that "It is impossible to repeat that the 2002 Road Map is a strategic asset for Israel and at the same time to ignore our obligations. Let us admit to ourselves: We committed not to built new settlements - we won't build new settlements. We promised not to expropriate land - we won't expropriate. We promised to raze illegal outposts - so certainly, we will raze them." How much credence should we put in these three promises and what is the declaration’s significance?

Bismarck is reputed to have warned against believing promises made on eve of elections, wars, and weddings. It is probably a good idea to add to this list promises made on the eve of peace conferences. A new round is to start in Annapolis next week.

Then there is Cynthia Fitzgerald's story. She's alleging fraud against her former Texas health care purchasing company. While we hear so much about Medicare fraud and how we need to get rid of it, she's actually trying to do something about it. She says she was offered bribes and her company disregarded its own ethical rules about contracts and bidding. She spents weeks

Being one of those people who thinks that if you bring wrong out into the open you'll be vindicated, she complained to her supervisors. She was marginalized, and of course, fired.

I'm sure her mother told her, as my mother told me: "All you have is your integrity as a human being. Once you lose that, you have nothing else." This too seems to be related to the power dynamic.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Passion

I originally posted this on my page at Black Women in Europe as a way to describe who I am to the sisters. But I also thought it might be good to have posted here as well. Of course, it is a little different because I get to tinker with my own writing whenever I want.

My passion is politics.

I believe that all relationships are political and everything else is environmental. This mentality leads me to try to live my life according to the Golden Rule. The fact that I'm also a Scorpio lends itself to this way of thinking. I'll try to explain.

The sentence that describes Scorpio is "I want or I desire." (Each sun sign has its own sentence, ask me and I'll tell you yours.) If you add your Rising and Moon signs, you should have a short paragraph that truly describes you. My rising sign is Cancer and my moon is in Pisces. Makes me a triple water sign -- very emotional. But here's my full sentence: I want what I feel and i feel what I believe and I believe what I want. What this means to me is that I'll work as hard as I need to work to achieve my desire because I not only believe that my desire is right for me, but that it is a correct desire -- sort of like my thing with the Golden Rule. I try to live my life according to the Golden Rule. Since I know exactly how I want to be treated, it is much easier than you'd think.

So back to politics. The first time I voted was in 1968 for Bobby Kennedy in the California primary. I've never missed a vote since, because my mother said I had to vote as long as there were people in this world dying for the right to vote. I've worked on political campaigns, made campaign contributions and been part of administrations.

But I decided that the most important thing for African Americans is to be able to register to vote and that voter registration should be non partisan (the parties can fight for your vote, but getting on the voter rolls should have no barriers). Working here in Greece with the Overseas Vote Foundation, I'm making sure that those Americans who are currently active duty military or the dependent of an active duty military person or just a citizen living outside the US, can use the internet to register to vote and request an absentee ballot.

Our program ( has received the support of the Secretaries of State (usually the top election officials at the state level) and the Pew Charitable Trusts and we're ready for 2008 and beyond. But we've done such a fantastic job of making it easier for overseas voters that we're going to start making it easier for stateside voters as well.

Talking to Politicians Who Will Never Hear Me

John Edwards
So, I was listening to the news roundup on the Diane Rehms Show on WAMU and heard that Hillary Clinton went after John Edwards - who I am supporting - because he has changed his views about some issues since he was in the Senate. So to Senator Edwards: Just tell Mrs. Clinton that you've spent the last four years talking to real people in real places and have learned thing about their lives that it isn't possible to learn when you're in Washington, DC and in the Senate.

Democrats in Congress
Don't fold on this war spending bill. Everyone knows that at this point, George Bush needs you more than you need him. You've just passed a HUGE defense bill so there is plenty of money to pay for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Call Defense Secretary Gates' bluff - he says he'll lay off civilian workers. Fine - if he lays off civilian workers, you can't be faulted for not funding the troops.

Hillary Clinton
The reason this woman is not supporting you is because I don't know what you care about. You can give very impassioned speeches, but I've learned that actions speak louder than words. Anyone can talk a good game, but playing it with heart and honesty is another thing all together.

I expect to have these conversations a lot over time.

Still Priviledged

I hadn't realized how sheltered and priviledged I am still. I knew about my priviledge in the States. After all, how many Black women get to retire at 55 and move to Europe?

But because we live on the Pelopponese, as opposed to Athens with the rest of the expatriate Americans, I hadn't realized that visa-less immigrants fight against all the odds to get to this part of Greece as well.

Then I read a story in today's Athens News. That's where I learned that Katakalo, that sleepy little port town that disgorges thousands of cruise ship passengers and loads them on to buses headed for Olympia, is also a stop on the visa-less immigrants tour of the world.

I am calling them "visa-less" because I don't believe that "illegal" correctly describes their plight and they may carry passports and other documentation from their originating countries, but they don't have a visa for Greece or anywhere else in Europe.

I know that part of this shelter and isolation is because I haven't had to learn the language and being basically lazy, I haven't. I don't need to work at a job where I would be communicating daily with other people. While Mr. Scorpio's family doesn't speak Greek, they also love me enough to be patient and make out what I'm trying to say. I can communicate enough to know I won't starve, get lost or not get the correct change.

Learning the language might be a goal for the next year. But for now, I'll just try to keep my eyes open and see what's going on.