Democracy Soup

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Archive for April 2008

Photo ID laws shouldn’t be used for sanctioned intimidation; right to vote should be sacred

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Originally published on on Wed, 04/30/2008 – 8:54am

“As an American, I have the right to vote for my leaders. Millions of men and women died for my right to vote. In other countries, they don’t even get to vote. Voting is a freedom that I shouldn’t take for granted.”

Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the vision that I grew up believing, and thought that we were supposed to believe about the United States. When thousands of 18, 19, and 20-year-olds were dying in Vietnam, the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to 18, was justified since if they were old enough to die for their country, they were old enough to vote.

But after reading about the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to uphold Indiana’s strict photo ID law, I know the first paragraph of this essay never was true. Well, there have been other issues: voters being turned away in Missouri in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, people illegally taken off the rolls in Florida in 2000, intimidation and underhanded tactics, and too many others to mention her.

There are many in this country, and perhaps many who read these pages who honestly wonder what the big deal is with showing photo ID when going to vote. And on paper, I could agree with that sentiment. But the reality is a different story.

Here is the exact wording of the requirements from the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. All 4 criteria must be met:

1. Display your photo

2. Display your name, and the name must conform to your voter registration record. Conform does not mean identical. Below are examples of names that would conform to “Robert John Crew”

* Robert John Crew
* Robert J. Crew
* Robert Crew
* R. John Crew
* R. J. Crew

* Bob John Crew
* Bob J. Crew
* Bob Crew
* John Crew
* J. Crew

3. Display an expiration date and either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 7, 2006)

* Including Military IDs with expiration does of “INDEF”

4. Be issued by the State of Indiana or the U.S. government

One intriguing provision: college IDs that meet the whole criteria are acceptable, provided the institution is an Indiana state school. So if you go to Indiana University or Purdue University, you are fine. If you go to Notre Dame, you’re out of luck.

Then there is this paragraph:

“If you are unable or unwilling to present ID meeting these requirements, you may cast a provisional ballot. If you cast a provisional ballot, you have until noon 10 days after the election to follow up with the county election board and either provide the necessary documentation or affirm one of the law’s exemptions applies to you.”

Well, we’ve seen what happens with provisional ballots, so faith will be a little lacking in that mode. Plus, if you can’t get out easily due to physical health, you then have to go out again in that 10-day period and hope the system works.

Provisions 2 and 3 contain vague notions, with the discretion going to the polling judge. While most polling judges do the honorable thing, we do have a system where a polling judge tells voters that the stylus is actually a pen with invisible ink.

What makes the Indiana law, and other similar laws such as the ones in Florida designed to intimidate registering new voters, a bad thing for democracy is the element of institutionalized intimidation. No matter how pretty and wonderful we make our system, there will always be underhanded tactics to undermine the right to vote. But when the government gets involved and sanctions intimidation, we have that much less democracy in this country. The Supreme Court has sanctioned a decision that assumes you don’t have the right to vote unless you can prove otherwise.

As for the Republicans who have lined up behind these bills, they may not realize that documents can be forged, and that polling judges aren’t going to be experts on what passes for legitimate IDs. What you end up with is legitimate people not voting, and having that approved by the government. All for a bill that addresses an issue that no one can say actually exists, i.e., voter fraud.

We love praising our system as being the best, but a better system lies just to the north: Canada. Elections Canada is set up as a nonpartisan organization that maintains voter rolls. The country has three days — Friday, Saturday and Monday, the 10th, 9th and 7th days before polling day — for advance voting.

And while there are now more stringent voter ID laws in Canada, they have a provision where “an elector may instead take an oath and be vouched for by another elector whose name is on the list of electors for the same polling division.”

In Canada, you have the assumed right to vote, you just have to prove you are you. And the standards are reasonable. But it also helps when you know the voter rolls are maintained in a nonpartisan manner, thereby increasing the integrity of the process.

In Canada, the right to vote is protected much more so than in the United States, even without the new laws. These new laws will only make things worse. And no offense to our Canadian friends, but if we are several steps below Canada in true voting democracy, we have no reason to brag.


Written by democracysoup

April 30, 2008 at 8:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

McCain, Clinton: Gas taxes aren’t the issue, stop pandering with worthless gimmicks

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Originally published on on Tue, 04/29/2008 – 8:57am

Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

I am considering renting a car to drive around Indiana over the weekend. My quest: see the madness of the Obama-Clinton matchup up close and in person. But my friends who have cars give me these sinister warnings: the price of gas is really, really high.

As if I don’t know that.

Yes, gas is expensive in relative terms in the United States. And unlike Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton, I know why gas is expensive, and I don’t even own a car.

It’s not the gas taxes that are the problem.

McCain proves as he wakes up each day that his knowledge of the economy can fit in a thimble with plenty of room to spare. His solution to show how “hip” he is about the economy, even though he owns 8 houses and has easy access to a private jet: let’s cut the gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Now I expect McCain to give us a worthless symbolic gesture that distracts us from the true problem. I almost insist on it. But watching Clinton join in AND criticize Obama for not making it a consensus? Really?

Clinton, unlike McCain, will at least pay for the tax revenue by taxing windfall profits from oil companies. A worthless symbolic gesture to fix a worthless symbolic gesture seems appropriate. To his credit, Obama noted that McCain’s proposal would save motorists only about $25 or $30.

Here in Chicago, we have a beautiful road called Lake Shore Drive. It’s such a beautiful road that it inspired a hit song by Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah in 1971. The drive has been featured in such classic movies as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Blues Brothers, Risky Business, and When Harry Met Sally.

And right now, there are significant patches that are in lousy shape. Really lousy shape. Like you might wonder if you can still have children kind of lousy shape.

Gas taxes aren’t collected for kicks — they pay to fix roads. And even though we hate road construction, there are employed people who are working out there to fix those roads. If we don’t collect the gas tax, we can’t fix roads or bridges (such as Minneapolis).

George W. Bush fed into this Republican mentality that taxes “are your money” and “you should decide what to spend it on.” No, taxes are money from the people to the government to do the things to make a society run.

I admire the audacity of the MSM and its vision of the economy: it sucks up to cheap gimmicks such as McCain’s and criticizes those who look at the big picture.

What we really could use from the MSM is one of those lovely pie charts that made the USA Today famous. And truly show us a breakdown of the cost of a gallon of gasoline. And unlike the actual pie charts in the USA Today, this one would show the cost of a gallon of gas from the unjustified war in Iraq and how much more an unjustified war in Iran would cost.

So when I do make that trip, I will grumble that I will pay more for gasoline than I have before. But I also know that if I were driving in Canada, I would pay more there than here. Same goes for Europe. And I will likely say really nasty things about Bush and Cheney getting us to this point.

But I won’t blame the gas tax. I know the gas tax is there to make sure the roads I am traveling on are in good shape. Because that is what government can do well. Barack Obama gets that, John McCain doesn’t, and Hillary Clinton should know better.

Written by democracysoup

April 29, 2008 at 8:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Nash McCabe will go to vote today in Pennsylvania; yet another American voting based on misinformation

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Originally published on on Tue, 04/22/2008 – 2:26pm

photo — Jason Cohn for The New York Times

Nash McCabe is going to the polls today in Pennsylvania, and she probably won’t vote for Barack Obama. In itself, this isn’t a big deal: one vote against a candidate running for president is not shocking or even unusual. What is also not unusual about McCabe’s vote today in Pennsylvania: it will be an uninformed one.

If you don’t recognize the name Nash McCabe, she was the video questioner in the ABC debacle debate in Philadelphia. McCabe was also the focus of a previous story in The New York Times from April 4. Gee, I wonder where ABC got the idea to interview her?

In The New York Times story, McCabe is quoted as saying “How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?”

So who is McCabe going to vote for on Tuesday in Pennsylvania? Well, George W. Bush isn’t on the ballot and he wears a flag pin. Who else? Ronald Reagan is dead. Bill Clinton is ineligible. There is always George H.W. Bush: he’s still eligible, though I don’t know if he wears a flag pin.

McCabe can’t vote for Obama because he doesn’t wear a flag pin. And she can’t vote for Hillary Clinton because she doesn’t wear a flag pin. And assuming she’s a registered Democrat, she can’t cross over in Pennsylvania to vote for John McCain. And oh, McCabe can’t vote for McCain because he doesn’t wear a flag pin either.

Ah, I know who she could vote for: Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani probably wears a flag pin in his sleep. He would be perfect, the kind of president McCabe wants in the White House. The only problem is that Giuliani is a Republican, and he likely won’t win Pennsylvania.

But McCabe will likely vote against Barack Obama because he is the only candidate that she is aware of that doesn’t wear a flag pin. So unless McCabe doesn’t vote at all today, ironically she will vote for a candidate who doesn’t wear a flag pin.

“How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?” Well, you probably will today.

We all have our reasons for voting for a candidate and quite frankly, against a candidate. Some vote for someone on health care, jobs, education, and energy. Some vote against a candidate because they ski on vacation or they can’t bowl well or having a beer with them sounds like a horrible idea.

So if Nash McCabe wants to vote for someone or against someone because they won’t wear a flag pin, that is her right as an American. But I wonder: Would Nash McCabe really have focused on flag pins if the MSM hadn’t focused on the fact that Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin and ignoring that Clinton and McCain also don’t wear flag pins?

Unfortunately for her, none of the three major candidates agrees with her. If Bob Barr wins the Libertarian nomination, she might have a champion in November. Though I can’t imagine that wearing a flag pin jibes with the Libertarian philosophy.

Now you might think that McCabe’s life is in pretty good shape if her major issue is who wears a flag pin. But The New York Times reported that McCabe is a recently unemployed clerk typist. This report notes that McCabe’s “husband was injured in a coal mining accident 25 years ago and can’t work. Nash has been the breadwinner all these years.”

Wow! That has to be a bad situation. She’s unemployed and her husband can’t work. I’m sure the health care bills are rising, there’s pressure on the mortgage, the rising costs of food and fuel can’t help either. And her prospects of getting a well paying job in that part of Pennsylvania aren’t that high. It’s almost as if she is bitter or something.

Voters make decisions to vote on a number of reasons, some extremely superficial or some not. And that’s fine. But their reasons should be based on the truth. Even if the MSM showed responsibility to be consistent and fair to all the candidates, there will always be misinformation spread in diners, beauty salons, and even the Internet. Some voters voted for George W. Bush in 2004 because they thought Bush was retaliating for 9/11 in Iraq. Some voters are thinking of voting for John McCain because they think he’s pro-choice.

Voters need to have the truth from a reliable, credible source to make as thorough a decision as they can. The MSM could do a lot more to make that a reality. A lot more.

Written by democracysoup

April 22, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

‘First Spouse’ should focus on reducing obesity levels

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Originally published on on Fri, 04/18/2008 – 5:40am

There is a prerogative for First Ladies (all women so far) to choose the topic where they will focus their time once their spouse becomes president. Laura Bush has spent her time, has spent her, uh, what has she been doing?

So I am not trying to force an issue for Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, or Cindy McCain to consider, but whomever ends up being the First Spouse should really think about working on reducing obesity levels in the United States.

The Type 2 diabetes numbers and obesity levels are rising. Health care costs are significantly affected. As the cost of food rises, the increase may force families to eat worse instead of better — cheap, processed food isn’t usually the best choice and more expensive, healthier options may be out of range for more and more Americans.

While we may currently have the fittest president ever (body, not mind), the role models for reducing obesity, well, have been, well, we have had celebrities that have lost weight, does that count?

But the three remaining contenders have a background to speak to an audience that may be more likely to listen to them about obesity.

Cindy McCain was caught (or her intern was caught) in a plagiarism scandal when “family recipes” turned out to be lifted from the Food Network Web site.

I suppose we’re all related in a humanist way, but I don’t know how related Cindy McCain is to Giada De Laurentiis or Rachael Ray.

I have thought we were past the point of being obsessed with the recipes of the First Lady, hoping that ended with the distraction of Hillary Clinton and chocolate chip cookies in 1992.

But when I found out that Cindy McCain suffered a stroke in 2004 and was focused on eating well, exercising, and reducing stress, my tone changed a little. Plagiarism is still a bad thing, but this was a golden opportunity to have Cindy talk about the merits of eating better as a society. If she has modified dishes to be healthier, then we would like to know what she is doing.

Bill Clinton, the man known for jogging to McDonald’s in the 1990s, had quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, and no longer jogs to get fast food. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is a joint initiative of the William J Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association (AHA), and Clinton worked hard to reduce the high-fructose corn syrup laden soft drinks from schools. Already an incredible advocate, Clinton would be am ideal role model about improving the health of this country.

One man in particular who is on board with Clinton’s initiative is fellow former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a presidential candidate himself. I have actually read Huckabee’s diet book, “Quit Digging your Grave with a Knife and Fork,” Huckabee lost 110 pounds after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

As for Michelle Obama, I’m not aware of any personal health issues in her life. And she is in great shape, as we saw recently on the “Colbert Report.” But as an African-American woman, she might be a better role model for how obesity levels are hitting minority communities. Also as a mother of young children, she can best address the more than 12.5 million American children and adolescents who are overweight.

The role of the First Spouse may have its limits, and we haven’t seen any relevance from the post in the last seven years. But the obesity issue is a major health care and quality of life issue in the United States. And every little bit will help.

Written by democracysoup

April 18, 2008 at 5:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Greg Gumbel more patriotic than Barack Obama? Patriotism is about what you do, not what you wear

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Originally published on on Thu, 04/17/2008 – 9:43am

non-politician Greg Gumbel and politician Barack Obama

by Chad Rubel

“Is that a pledge pin on your uniform?” – Animal House, 1978

No offense to Greg Gumbel, but does wearing the flag pin make Gumbel more patriotic than Barack Obama?

Pinned conjures up different images in our society. There was a time when girls were pinned if the boy was serious about the relationship. Getting pinned in a wrestling match is a bad thing.

But does wearing a flag pin make you patriotic? Or perhaps the better question, does not wearing a flag pin make you unpatriotic?

According to that logic, the on-air personnel at CBS Sports are more patriotic than Barack Obama. So Greg Gumbel is more patriotic than Barack Obama.


sportscaster Greg Gumbel

The geniuses on the ABC News debate last night decided that “patriotism” was a more important topic than health care or how to create more jobs. We had a video question on whether Obama loves the flag.

The flag pin ritual became somewhat relevant after September 11 to “show patriotism.” So we became slaves to a symbol. If we wore the magic symbol, we were patriots. If we didn’t, we weren’t. Why if terrorists wore a flag pin, they couldn’t possibly blow something up, could they?

It was bad enough that politicians started to wear them. Politicians love peer pressure, but when news anchors also started wearing them, it was truly a sad day. It was almost as if they couldn’t report anything bad about the U.S., even if it was true (turns out that actually happened).

The idiocy of the flag pin controversy was captured well by Doonesbury on Sunday.

5 sportscasters, 5 flag pins

While we’ve seen fewer and fewer news people wearing the flag pins, one place you can still see them is the coverage on CBS Sports. Okay, let’s see if we can comprehend this. Are the folks at CBS Sports afraid that viewers will be confused over which country they are in? And what if an employee is Canadian, should that person be required/coerced to wear a flag pin?

Leadership is not responding to peer pressure (“You want a shot with that Hillary?”), but show direction that is right, not always popular. Obama took a big gamble by not wearing the flag pin, showed actual leadership in doing the right thing. And his reward: stupid questions about the viability of patriotism.

If patriotism was about what you wore, then Stephen Colbert wrapped in nothing but the U.S. flag would be extremely patriotic. Now he does it as a joke, but the flag pin issue is a dangerous one. False patriotism is dangerous to our democracy, and doesn’t make us any safer or patriotic.

Written by democracysoup

April 17, 2008 at 9:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

If we are going to define the middle-class, let’s not ask Charles Gibson

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Originally published on on Thu, 04/17/2008 – 7:52am

I missed Tim Russert and Chris Matthews. They aren’t well-schooled in running a debate or asking relevant questions, but Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos made Russert and Matthews look like Jim Lehrer.

Gibson’s lack of awareness on salaries was annoying in New Hampshire way back in January, but his obsession with the capital gains tax was frightening.

Gibson was rather emotional and confrontational on the capital gains tax issue, the only time he was all night. He appeared to stand up for the “100 million who own stock” in this country. However, he seemed to be much more worried about his own investments than the ones of the viewers.

Yes, 100 million Americans own stock, but what does that mean? 401(k)s? S&P 500 funds? Of the 100 million, how many receive significant incomes from stock? In doing the math, 1% of that figure is 1 million people. And if those are the upper echelon (yes, I’m including you, Charlie), can’t they afford a little more?

Gibson hasn’t written a book on economics, but his views on the matter are limited to tunnel vision. Gibson has the impression that if A happens, B will always happen regardless of any other variable. So if the capital gains rate goes up, revenues go down, and vice versa. Always. In logic class, Mr. Gibson, that gets you an F.

A better explanation for why Gibson is clueless can be found here.

Obama had it right: if the secretaries of the hedge fund managers pay a higher rate than their bosses, that needs to be fixed.

And the payroll tax issue. Obama wanted to raise the cap on the payroll tax, currently capped around $97,000. Gibson objected since he said Obama wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class.

Let’s think about this for a second. Obama said 6% of Americans make $100,000 or more a year. Now math isn’t my strong suit, but middle usually means middle. If $100,000 marks the elite of the country, and the payroll tax is capped around $97,000, who is really being hurt by this? Unless there are a ton of people specifically making between $97,000 and $99,999, this category is rather select.

I don’t know the extent of Gibson’s support staff (butler, maid, chaffeur, et al), but he desperately needs a reality check.

I do want to thank Gibson for one thing: opening our eyes to what exactly is the middle class? Since the election cry is on middle-class tax cuts or raising taxes on the wealthy, let’s come up with figures (to be adjusted for inflation).

If the middle-class is defined as less than $200,000 or $250,000 and 6% of Americans make $100,000 or more, we need to change the definition. Perhaps we can add a new classification, such as “upper middle-class” and “lower middle-class.” And we could also add “poor, but fed” and “poor, and not so fed.”

This is a third rail topic. Americans don’t like to think they aren’t middle-class, even if they aren’t. But in this economy, reality is more important than perception, even if it makes you feel less wealthy.

Written by democracysoup

April 17, 2008 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s April 15: Do you know where John McCain’s tax returns are?

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Originally published on on Tue, 04/15/2008 – 9:03am

The lament of April 15

Well, it’s April 15: Tax Day in the United States. Your taxes are due at midnight tonight (local time). And as George Harrison once sang, “Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more.” And speaking due, a presidential candidate’s past tax returns are long overdue.

Is it Barack Obama? No, he long ago submitted his past tax returns. Is it Hillary Clinton? Well, no. Even Buddhist monks who don’t have access to newspapers or TV know that the media hounded her to release the past tax returns, and had hilarious and mean things to say once they were released.

Is it John McCain? You are absolutely correct. Open up a Budweiser to celebrate. Oh, did we say something that might trouble the senior senator from Arizona?

Well, he has to worry about Mike Huckabee. Wait, he’s the presumptive nominee and has been for some time. Uh, maybe he’s hard at work on this year’s return and doesn’t have time. Oh, all he has to do is just release them. Do we have any more excuses for Senator McCain?

McCain’s campaign said in March he would release them in the next month or so, but it’s not like we’ve seen any significant pressure to do so.

The only thing as startling as the fact that a presumptive presidential candidate nominee hasn’t released his tax returns is the fact that the MSM hasn’t asked for him to do so. On the day Clinton released her tax returns, I was in a conversation in a bar with a producer for a MSM Web site. I asked her why the press hasn’t asked about McCain’s returns. She said all that would happen in due time.

Really? This is the justification for the double standard. And you can rest assured that when the MSM does wake up to the idea, it will sound more like “hey, Senator McCain, you might want to think about, maybe, if you don’t mind and it’s not too much trouble, could you possibly release your tax returns for the past few years, if it’s no big deal, well, you are running for president, not that it’s any of our business, but we would like to know if it’s not too much trouble.”

And when (if) we finally receive those, the scrutiny on McCain’s returns from the MSM will be lighter than a feather resting on a bird’s wing.

There have been stories from the alternative press (yea!) about McCain’s wealth, his 8 houses, his in-laws beer distributor money, and his refusal to release his tax returns. There was McCain referring to Obama as elitist, this from a man in McCain’s position. This is what makes the MSM’s sin even more disturbing. McCain’s hypocrisy would be obvious, except they won’t mention McCain’s wealth.

It would also be nice if John McCain disclosed his tax returns to see how his decision to keep permanent the Bush tax cuts (a reversal for him) would affect him personally.

As distressful as the idea that John McCain, who has no excuses, hasn’t let us see his tax returns for the last few years, can you blame him for not showing them? He went through a whole process of primaries and caucuses, rarely if ever getting a question that might throw him off or show him in less than ideal light. He actually went long past the cycle of primaries and caucuses without a serious inquiry about his tax returns. McCain has had less than 1% of the pressure exerted on Sen. Clinton, and she has already released hers.

We have long established that releasing tax returns is part of running for president, and is absolute for those who are the presumptive presidential nominee of a major political party. Obama and Clinton have both released their tax returns, and one of them isn’t going to be the Democratic Party nominee. McCain is the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party. So where are they?

Midnight on April 15 is the deadline for Americans to file their returns. It’s a hard, fast deadline. McCain’s deadline expired a long time ago. It’s beyond time to see the wealth behind the candidate. To not demand that now is a breach of responsibility.

Written by democracysoup

April 15, 2008 at 9:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized