Monday, May 15, 2017

Snipe Hunt That You Can Pay For

So the President of the United States lied to the American people.  I know what you are asking, "which time?"  Well the one to sooth his own ego because he lost the popular vote and it hurts him badly.  So he said there was wide spread voter fraud and that it was particular in numbers that would mean he won the popular vote too.  He has appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to help lead this snipe hunt.  Yeah that Kris Kobach who claimed wide spread voter fraud in his state and 4 times tried to pass laws that the courts found to be more voter suppression than voter fraud.  The issue is simple.  There is virtually no in-person voter fraud in this country.  There are in fact incidences of it happening.  Including a woman who voted twice for President Trump in the last election.  Another a Tea Party leader and head of Colorado's GOP who forged his wife's signature and voted for her.  But back to the commission.  It is looking at something that is not a problem.

Close elections have happened.  However for voter fraud to work at a state wide level it would require a great deal of work on the part of someone organizing 100s or 1000s of people to vote more than once and under an assumed name.  In Florida, in 2000, the initial numbers suggested that George W Bush won the state by around 1000 votes.  When the Supreme Court halted the hand recount he was up by about 600 votes.  If voter fraud were to sway that election, somewhere between 500-1000 votes in the state of Florida would have had to been cast illegally without getting caught.  Think about that, a system would have to be in place that either had people register in two places, vote in both places and not get caught voting in both places when the election results are reviewed.  Or there would have to be a team of people identifying non-voters (lazy or dead) who are on the registry, send someone to the polls as them, assume no one will question the signature line and any of them.  All to see if you can overcome enough votes to sway the election.  Oh I did I say if caught it is a federal crime that carries prison time.  How is this possible?

Laws have been developed to try to add more layers of necessary identification to vote to combat the non-existent issue of in-person voter fraud.  Members of the newly appointed commission are among the worst at putting barriers to certain constituencies when it comes to voting.  There have always been identification requirements for voting.  These laws found ways to make it harder for people to vote and that is not right.  Unless there is real evidence of in-person voter fraud what is the point of these laws beyond, what some have said, to make it easier for Republicans to get elected.

Now I know that registration fraud is an issue.  Both with people registering that shouldn't, or fake registrations being sent in or dead people remaining on the roles, or people moving and not re-registering.  People registering who shouldn't is not a common thing.  The big argument is that people in the country illegally vote.  They don't.  In fact they avoid official situations where they have to give information to government officials.  You see, they are always in fear of being deported.  As for non-citizen residence, well it happens, usually because the people doing the registering are not skilled at helping people know if they can vote or not.  In most cases they tend to be found out in the process.  As for fake registrations, well that is a problem of how community groups pay people to sign people up.  There is an incentive to file as many registrations as possible as many have been paid by form filled in.  The law requires anyone doing voter registration drives to send all applications in even if known to be fraudulent.  ACORN did that in 2008 and got attacked for it.  In fact it was officials in some ACORN offices that tipped off the government officials to bad registrations that they were required to turn in.  But the facts are overwhelmed by the story and thus the GOP used it as a lever by the GOP to destroy ACORN.  In Indiana there was a raid on a community group registering African Americans and other underrepresented minorities in several counties.  Big news about raid, by January there was still no public report and in fact it was another example of people creating fake voter registrations not to sway an election but to get paid.  But registration fraud has not been proven to relate to any fake cast votes on any major scale.

What is amazing is that the President is using information he doesn't understand from a study that showed voter rolls are not updated enough.  It found people registered in two places, or registered in the wrong place as well as out of date registrations.  Funny when mentioned it was found that many of the inner circle of Trump's advisers had bad registrations.  This is not nefarious this is the failure of bureaucracy.

In-person voter fraud is not an issue in our country.  The President's claim of 3-5 million illegal votes cast in the last election has been refuted by members of both major parities including by those officials in charge of elections for their state.  But even if there was an effort to do it, the mass scale it would take is staggering in its scope and the potential benefits versus the risks makes it not worth it.  In fact 10 years ago when the justice department looked into this they found virtually nothing.  This is a waste of time, money and energy when it comes to voter fraud.  However, if the goal is to stop minorities and the elderly from voting it could have a pay off for the GOP.  Is this what you want?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Tribute to a Friend

Last night, as she slept, a friend of mine passed into eternity.  Ellen Daniels Howell, until recently the executive director of the Global Interfaith Partnership (GIP), lost her fight with cancer. She passed away surrounded by family. Today, we gathered as a board of directors and shared thoughts, prayers and memories of Ellen.  We each told of what she meant to us, and to all the people she touched through the work and the other aspects of her life.  I have known her for almost 10 years, working together on the Umoja project that continues to feed and educate the most vulnerable children in the HIV/AIDS ravaged area in Western Kenya. "Mama" Ellen, as she is called in Kenya, was the founding director of the program with a small board and little support, but today the community around Chulaimbo, Kenya and here in Indianapolis are different and better places because of it. Ellen helped craft the vision that led to approaching the task not simply to solve but to build relationships , those relationships drove the program as labor of love.  As a GIP community, we listened to each other, we celebrated with each other and made the tragic events easier to handle.  We were about people not problems.
This evening, when we gathered, it was clear how much Ellen affected people she met.  People spoke how Ellen lived her beliefs out loud. She saw value in everyone she met, she saw the spark of Godness in all of humanity. It was that that she helped us find in ourselves.   She had a talent for reaching people's hearts and minds to help them find their better self.  She had a knack for asking people to make their lives more complicated by helping others.  And many, including me, did it with joy.  She found a way to make us find our own better selves.

I will miss my friend, my teacher, my mentor.  I was privileged by having had the ability to learn from her over the last decade.  I will miss her spirit and passion.  I will miss her book suggestions (she really increased my reading list) and I will miss her voice that challenged us and cheered us.  May Mama Ellen be welcomed into the arms of the Eternal and may she rest in peace.   

Friday, May 5, 2017

Freedom to Speak is Not Fully Free

Carmel High School here in Indiana is once again in the midst of a free speech debate.  A student group Voices United are suing for the right a banner that includes a pro-choice message on abortion. The  ACLU of Indiana will represent the students. The  students have  said the administration won’t allow them to hang their banner even though the school allowed an exception to a no advocacy rule for banners for a pro-life group earlier this year.  This seems pretty clear to me.  The exception for the anti-abortion banner puts the school in a position where to block opposing banners is a clear violation of the rights of students.  While the school can clearly decide the message it allows on its walls the students do have a right to fairness if some messages on issues are allowed.  My guess is that the latest banner will be allowed and the high school will start a new year with a better defined policy.  I am hoping that this is a teaching moment and doesn't become a shouting match between adults with agendas.

What also can be a teachable moment is what has been happening at Berkeley.  Earlier this year, a member of what is called the Alt-Right, Milo Yiannopoulos was to speak at the university. Protesters came to the site and violently attacked police and vandalized the area shutting down the speech.  Also a Berkeley, Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak and the school canceled it for fear of violence.  Now I think Milo and Ann have not only ideas I find abhorrent, but I think they are dangerous.  But I think that free speech is not about speech I agree with.  It is specifically about the speech that makes me uncomfortable.  If you want to stop these two, then challenge those that give them the forum and the money.  In Milo's case, that is exactly what happened.  His vitriol and hate encouraged people to seek out what he said and when he seemed to come out in support of sexual relationships between men and young boys he lost the support of many who used his voice for things they couldn't say themselves in public.

Free speech is a tricky thing that many people don't understand.  There is the concept of free speech, and the right of free speech.  We can look at the right of free speech first.  In the Constitution free speech is protected with other rights in the first amendment.  But the right protects you only from the government doing something to punish you for your words or as it is broadly interpreted, actions that speak for you (such as wearing an armband).  While not unlimited, the right protects your ability to speak your mind and was designed in part to keep us free to be critical of those in power.  The right allows you to be free of fear of jail for holding an opinion.  It doesn't however protect you when it comes to inciting actions that would hurt others, distribution of obscene material in certain circumstances, and allows public schools to bar certain kinds of speech on campus including controlling content in student newspapers.  The Supreme Court has also ruled that certain forms of anti-war speech (burning draft cards and encouraging people not to sign up for selective service) are not protected.  But for the most part the government doesn't arrest you for what you say.

Now the concept of free speech is broader.  It is not about a right.  This is often cited in situations like Berkeley.  If Berkeley truly supported free speech, the argument goes, they would do everything in their power to let Ms. Coulter speak.  Even if a majority of the campus didn't approve.  In fact maybe because of it.  You see free speech is an easy thing when  you agree with what is being said.  It is actually designed for speech you don't agree with.

Most people think they believe in free speech right up to the point they are confronted with something they don't like.  There have been so many incidence of free speech issues in the last few weeks that it is hard to shake them all out.  Stephen Colbert's not very child-friendly attack on the President the other day is a great example.  You see he was angry that the President was making fun of a CBS reporter to his face and of course proper decorum meant the reporter, who respects the Office of the President couldn't crack back.  However Colbert felt he could.  Like an enforcer in hockey he took the fight to the bully.  It was crude, it was rude and it was protected by our Constitution and by the idea of free speech.  Many on the right went to twitter screaming that he should be fired.  Some wanted him arrested.  But one intrepid right wing radio host, Tony Katz,  summed it up best.  You don't fire Colbert, you compete against him.  Make him not valued.  Turn him off.  This strategy works.  You see everyone on TV, in media, who is famous are so because of you, me and the buying public.  That is why boycotts work.  In another recent series of events, there has been a coordinated effort by a person on twitter to shame advertisers from letting ads run on the Alt-Right website Breitbart.  Sleeping Giants has been successful at getting major online advertisers to stop allowing their ads to run on the site, thus slowing down their revenue stream.  Some see this as running afoul of the concept of free speech.  But the concept isn't meant to force those who find something objectionable to remain silent.

And that call for silence is what leads to the idiotic notion of political correctness.  Today, if you challenge the language someone uses when talking of others you are charged with the crime of being politically correct.  The idea started with authoritarian regime in the old Soviet Union, that called for people to have a correct way to speak of things.  They must be politically correct.  Later liberals in places like Berkeley and Ann Arbor were using to make fun of those who tried to out liberal each other.  EX:  Her Birkenstock are made with fair trade faux leather, no animals were killed and the workers all have fair wages and insurance.  She is way more politically correct.  Then George H. W. Bush used it in a speech at the University of Michigan's 1991 Commencement.  I was 10 blocks away when he said this:

Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including on some college campuses. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits.

He was lamenting a rising awareness of those who had been forced to margins of society now stepping up and demanding respect and dignity, even in how they were spoken of in public.  This one paragraph has for over 25 years continue to be the foundation of a movement that suggests that free speech is limited if we collective so much disapprove of a form of speech that we don't let it said in our halls, on our dime or in our name.  What is acceptable in public is not always about squashing a political or ideological position.  But we as a society can and should decide what we consider appropriate behavior in public.  (In private say whatever you want and no one should be able to control that).  There were times were men were ostracized if they brought up certain topics in mixed company (meaning men and women).  That women were shunned if they had strongly held opinions. You could lose your job for criticizing members of the church.  No one talked about political correctness then.  In fact no one talks about people who attacked Colbert this week as being politically correct.  For the record I thought he took it a tad too far.  But when those in power feared those outside of power might be able to stand up for themselves these charges started.  I have gotten to the point when I hear someone say something about political correctness, I assume they are angry that they can't call a black man the n-word or a Jew a kike.  Because I am not sure what else they might mean.  What I do know is that I wouldn't want to be associated with them, but if the government came knocking because they simply used those words, I would fight for them.

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...