Monday, October 27, 2008


The final six minutes of Barack Obama’s “closing argument” speech in Canton Ohio left me with tears in my eyes.

GOP Voter Suppression May Stop Joe The Plumber From Voting

It might be the supreme, ironic, twist of Republicans efforts to keep people from voting. It turns out that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – the infamous Joe the Plumber – may not be able to vote.

The Republican Party in Ohio lost a battle it took all the way to the US Supreme Court to force the Secretary of State to use “exact matches” against driver license or Social Security lists to purge voters. It turns out that Wurzelbacher is registered as Worzelbacher and might have found himself blocked from voting.

While this is happening everywhere, it is compounded by a protracted Republican effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters under the guise of combating voter fraud. Voter fraud is a serious issue.

The trouble is that it barely exists.

In the six years since the Bush administration made it a priority, barely 100 people have been convicted and fewer than 200 have been charged with voter fraud. The overwhelming majority either were people who thought they were eligible but weren't such as immigrants and felons or individuals registering fictitious people who couldn’t turn up to vote in any event.

A Worse Fraud

Knowingly false cries of “voter fraud” are a much worse fraud the GOP is trying to foist on the country than the actual crime itself – which doesn’t exist in any event. But its real purpose is to intimidate voters, especially those who are uneducated, poor and black or brown when they show up to vote.

"If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a state-wide election, that would be significant," Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola University Law School, told the New York Times last year. "But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that have not shown any kind of criminal intent."

This doesn’t stop Republicans from trying.

Over the weekend, Pres. Bush sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter asking him to investigate the Ohio case already rejected by the Supreme Court. And don’t forget that five of the 12 US attorneys fired last year in the scandal that led to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales were illegally fired because they refused to pursue voter fraud with sufficient zeal to satisfy their ideologue masters in Washington. It also explains the Republican attacks on Acorn, which pays people to register voters in low income and minority areas. A tiny handful of Acorn workers made up names this year, which was condemned by both Acorn and the Obama campaign; in fact, Acorn flagged suspicious registration forms before submitting them to county clerks, something the GOP vote suppressors never mention when doing cable news interviews.

But there is absolutely no evidence – none, nada, zip – that Acorn or anyone else resulted in a single fraudulent vote ever being cast since Acorn began its large-scale drives in 2004.

While attempts at voter suppression are partisan in intent, they are racial in effect.

The Democrats have not won an election without the black vote since 1964. The most effective and crude way to undermine their base is to minimise the vote in black areas. This is just what happened in Florida in 2000, where Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris lowered dramatically the threshold for including someone on the "purge list." By the time Harris and her minions were done, African-Americans were 88% of purged names even though they account for only 11% of the actual electorate.

Kaftaesque Nightmares

As I wrote here on Oct. 22 (, McCain insiders say that the campaign and the Republican National Committee are allegedly conspiring with outside groups to supress voter registration and turnout. Bush’s weekend letter to Mukasey is another piece of damning evidence that the GOP plans to keep people from voting since they cannot be convinced to vote for McCain.

When I first read Franz Kafka in high school, it struck me that the dark tales he spun were from a society, time and place far removed from the safety of Minneapolis. As I re-read Kafka over the years, the stories became increasingly real – and hit much closer to home. A few nights ago, I had a Kafkaesque nightmare where a group of people kept standing in front of me at a voting machine so I couldn’t cast a ballot.

Despite the legions of voter rights groups and the armies of lawyers on stand-by for any hanky-panky on Nov. 4, I’m convinced by my own reporting and other pieces I’ve read that the Republican Party intends to steal the presidential election if it cannot win it. It’s why a landslide is the only way to prevent this from happening: The GOP can steal a state but it cannot steal an entire country.

But if, somehow, that happens I shudder to think what will become of America and her experiment in democracy.

The "Wassup" Boys Hit Hard Times

Eight years ago, Budweiser’s “Wassup?” boys said good by to each other and to America. Now they catch up with each other.

Turns out everyone is looking for change.

Excuse Me, But I Am A Real American

For the past several weeks, John McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates have been busily dividing America into two categories: Real and, I guess, pretend Americans.

To Republicans, Election 2008 is junior high school all over again, complete with cliques and slam books. Us and them. The cool kids and the geeks. The jocks and the nerds.

I’m left trying to figure out what a “real American” might be, at least in the minds of the McCain campaign who see the world in white and black – and I use those words deliberately given the nature of this campaign.

Joyce Lipari, a Cortez Colorado real estate agent, defined a “real” American" to McClatchy as "being normal, having a mom and pop making it in a business, and paying their fair share of taxes."

Oh dear. Her definition eliminates most of the fat cat contributors to the Republican Party, the wealthiest 5% of the nation who didn’t make it in a business, they made it by moving other people’s money around and who often pay no taxes at all let alone their fair share. Remember the hedge fund managers pleading with Congress to remain exempt from income taxes on some flimsy rationale?

"A real American is the average person who works 9 to 5 for an average pay check," says Jan Gardner, a nurse from Dolores, Colorado.

Well, as a writer and journalist, I usually work from 7 to 6 for below-average pay checks. Does this mean I am overqualified to be a “real American” or am I a foolishly unreal American?

A Long Line

I come from a long line of “real Americans.”

My mother’s family washed ashore not long after the Civil War as part of the massive immigration wave from Central and Northern Europe. They worked in Chicago and Milwaukee factories, eventually producing my grandfather and grandmother who started a business in the late 1920s and retired in the early 1970s. Beginning with the 1932 election, they never voted for a Republican and believed to the core of their very soul that FDR saved America and them, personally, from ruin and destruction.

One and two at a time, my father’s family came to the United States from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. By the end of World War I, my grandfather and grandmother were in the US and produced my father, the first of three children. Grandpa worked for a laundry and grandma took in both boarders and laundry to make ends meet through the depression. Although grandmother died in the mid-1950s, grandpa worked until he was 70, retiring to live with one of his daughters. They considered themselves “real Americans” and from the time they became citizens always voted for Democrats because "Republicans drive Cadillacs. Feh" My grandfather drove a Hudson until the company went out of business and then drove a Nash.

So I am a product of “real Americans” and resent being cast as something else, something almost evil, by the McCain-Palin slime machine.

What makes me as real an American as the throngs yelping and whooping “Kill him!” at GOP rallies? It is my system of beliefs about democracy.

Belief In Democracy

Besides the fact that I vote, I am a real American because I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I am a real American because I use my right to Freedom of Speech to boast about the US when it is at its best and reveal inconvenient truths about my country when it is wrong. I lost friends and incurred public wrath and scorn in 2002 and 2003 when I stated unequivocally that George Bush and his brown shirts were lying about WMDs in Iraq.

I am a real American because I don’t believe anyone should be held without charge or trial, regardless of whatever crime they may or may not have committed.

I am a real American because I don’t believe the government has an inherent right to read my mail, real or e-, or listen to my phone calls or rummage through my life without first demonstrating probable cause to a judge and getting a warrant.

I am a real American because I believe US laws and treaties signed by the United States banning the use of torture must be honored.

I am a real American because I think the rich should pay higher taxes than the poor. If that’s socialism, so be it; we’ve been engaging in socialism for the rich since Ronald Reagan stumbled into the White House and turned the tax tables on its head.

I am a real American because I believe black and yellow and red and white and polka-dot people are all the same regardless of the political party they support, the house of worship they attend (and even if they don’t go to a house of worship at all), or the sex of the person they love.

I am a real American because I believe that people who think the exact opposite of me are also real Americans. More than anything else, I think this is what separates so-called “real Americans” from the “Us vs. Them” crowd hanging out with McCain and Palin. I believe even those folks are real Americans.