Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Intellectual Property Blues, Beatles Edition

cross-posted at Dagblog

So, the Beatles are finally available on iTunes, goo goo goo joob. And the news has been greeted with a resounding yawn; many people claim that the move is much, much too late to be hip, and too late to be hip, in the music business, means too late to make a sale. [UPDATE: Since the Beatles sold 2 million songs and 450,000 albums n iTunes this week, I was obviously completely wrong about this.] Anyway, as every music columnist has already pointed out, Beatles fans all ripped all of their CDs to iPods years ago. (Disclaimer: Dr. Cleveland is a Beatles fan with an iPod. He did in fact rip all his Beatles CDs years ago.) But this John-Paul-George-and-Ringo-come-lately move isn't an isolated case: it's part of an ongoing intellectual-property management strategy by the Beatles' people, a strategy that tries to preserve their value by preserving scarcity and keeping prices high. And while that sounds like a reasonable strategy, it's probably going to hurt them in the long run.

For example, The Beatles have never allowed songs in movie soundtracks until this year. Their manager/loyalist/gatekeeper Neil Aspinall, who recently passed away, forbade it. You could pay for cover versions, but the actual tracks were the holy of holies and you couldn't have them. This is why you have never seen a movie set in the 1960s, unless it was Help! or A Hard Day's Night!, in which anyone was listening to the Beatles. Think about it. Think of a movie set between 1964 and, say, 1971 or 1973. What's on the soundtrack? If the characters put on a record or turn on their radio, what do they hear?

Hendrix. Janis. Puff the Magic Dragon. If the movie's budget is too low, Canned Heat. Now, all of that stuff was playing back then. It's "realistic," in the movie sense that those records were actually being played in the time period. And there's plenty of great music from the 1960s that can be licensed cheaply for films. (The Jefferson Airplane's people aren't holding out for top dollar.) So, naturally, film makers put the inexpensive songs on the sound track.

Here's the funny part: if you grew up with films about the 1960s, rather than personal memories of that decade, it probably seems to you as if those less expensive songs, the K-Tel Greatest Hits, were more popular than they were. And it will seem to you as if the Beatles never got played at all. In fact, the Beatles had a kind of carpet-bombing dominance of the airwaves and the record charts for years on end, a kind of dominance that we don't see anymore (and therefore don't intuitively find plausible). In the actual 1960s, the Beatles were ubiquitous. In the film version of the 1960s they're nowhere (man). Our mass media prompts us to imagine a 1960s in which "White Rabbit" was playing constantly and the "Strawberry Fields" never got air time. In fact, it's just the reverse. You hear "White Rabbit" so much now because it was only pretty successful back then.

(Ask a college kid who was more popular in 1968, Hendrix or the Beatles. They will take it as a serious question, and it isn't. Hendrix was a star, but the Beatles were crazy monster supernovas. Jimi's biggest single peaked at #20, which is roughly comparable to how the B-Side to "Paperback Writer" did. Even major figures like Dylan and the Stones, who are in the conversation with the Beatles, didn't have the same kind of success or market power.)

Now, the Apple Records "no soundtrack" policy makes obvious sense as a way to preserve the value of the Beatles brand, by enforcing scarcity. And the new policy will just be a kinder, gentler version of the old one, since the prices to license a Beatles tune for a film will still be sky-high. (One of the three songs licensed this year cost the studio $1.5 million dollars.) But in practice, this strategy has the unexpected effect of undermining younger listeners' sense of the Beatles' importance. The band seems less central, and less important, which means they eventually become less influential and important. This may be hard for some Baby Boomers to understand, because the Beatles' magnitude seems so inescapably obvious to them. But younger listeners weren't there for the Sixties, and the Beatles got left out of the movies.

(The Stones have a different strategy: they license songs for movie soundtracks, but not for soundtrack albums. The songs in the movies keep the band in the public mind, but if you want to buy the record you've got to buy The Stones. It's a smart business strategy; Mick went to the London School of Economics, after all.)

Anyway, here's some free promotion for the Fab Four, because they were pretty good on their off days:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Obama's Veto and Mortgage Fraud

cross-posted at Dagblog

If you've been looking for a fight in the lame-duck session, we may be about to see one: this Wednesday, November 17th, the House is going to have a veto override vote on the so-called "Interstate Recognition of Notaries Act," H.R. 3808. (h/t John Cole) What is the Interstate Recognition of Notaries Act, you say?

A law that would basically make mortgage fraud by interstate banks legal. Let me rephrase that: a law that would make documents notarized out of state immune to challenge no matter how they were notarized, meaning the criminal shenanigans that mortgage servicers have gotten up to, such as swearing under oath to the accuracy of documents they've never seen, would become both legal and practically unassailable. [UPDATE: I was blogging in anger when I wrote this, and became a weaker blogger because of it. The bad documents would not become legally unassailable, but they would become harder to assail. The point of the law is to legalize the banks' slipshod electronic records service, MERS, and the general effect would be "solve" the problem of illegal record keeping by changing the law to the banks' benefit. And that is both immoral and foolish.]

If that's still too complicated, let me put it this way: this law would allow the banks to just make up documents and use them to take your house, even if they couldn't actually find the title to your house (because they'd sold your mortgage, say, or because you don't have a mortgage). And there won't be a damned thing you can do about it. The banks will no longer be accountable to the law. [UPDATE again: This was hyperbole on my part. There are other ways to challenge perjured affidavits, and notarizing perjury doesn't make it immune to challenge. But the general thrust of the law is to make that systematic perjury easier, and raise the bar to challenging it. That's a terrible, terrible idea.]

Now, President Obama vetoed this abomination in October. The shocking part is that it got to his desk at all. It got there on a voice vote in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate, meaning that they didn't actually count the votes.

This bill got through both Houses of Congress without the Democrats having any real idea how it would affect the financial crisis, or what its ramifications were. (To be fair, many of the horror stories about mortgage fraud and routine perjury by mortgage companies had not yet come to light when the bills passed.) Basically, it was the Administration that caught this one in time and killed the bill. That should give you an idea of how carefully our representatives generally think about the oversight of big finance, and of how thorough and terrible the influence of banking lobbyists on the Hill is.

The veto-override vote might only be symbolic; Obama tried to straddle some legal ambiguities on this one, and make his veto immune to challenge, by doing a kind of double veto strategy. He pocket-vetoed it, because pocket vetoes cannot be overridden, but also sent the usual veto memo to Congress, to protect against any claim that Congress was technically in session when he chose not to sign it (if the President doesn't sign a bill while Congress is in session, it automatically becomes law; Obama wanted to guard against that). And now that the Democrats have realized what the law would actually do, I don't think there's going to be a two-thirds majority in favor of it.

Tell your representative to vote against this monstrosity, even so. And keep count of who's willing to be counted as favoring it. If this vote ends up being only symbolic, let's remember what's being symbolized.

FINAL UPDATE: According to D-Day at FDL, this vote is actually an expression of procedural displeasure with Obama over the double-veto-failsafe trick. Sigh. I understand that. But it's hard to cheer for Congress after they originally passed this bill without paying any attention to what it said. Obama's procedural caution happened because he was forced to play backstop for a Congress that hadn't done its job.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

International Jewish Conspiracy REVEALED!

cross-posted at Dagblog

This week Glenn Beck dedicated three of his daily TV shows to attacking the philanthropist George Soros. Beck accused Soros, a Holocaust survivor, of collaborating with the Nazis, and further accused Soros (a Jewish international financier) of being a "puppetmaster" who has formed a "shadow government" and is plotting to undermine America, destroy its economy, and subvert its electoral politics. Fox News is fine with this, apparently.

My blogging colleague Michael Wolraich, who is both the author of the newly-released book Blowing Smoke and the blogger known as Genghis, has an excellent piece on explaining the history of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Beck draws on to libel Soros.

Mike's article has brought Dagblog a bunch of brand new commenters, who are very angry on Mr. Beck's behalf and are generously warning us of the dangers of conspiratorial Jews such as Mr. Soros. We thank them for sharing their views. One new internet buddy speculates that Mike must be part of the Jewish conspiracy himself:

Wolraich must be Jewish also and he is trying to defend someone of his own faith right or wrong. When a writer takes one side of a story and never shows even a slightly darker side of the subject you can take his work as biased hersay

That's the best thing about international Jewish conspiracies: they're very very secret, but also clearly visible. This must be convenient.

But I think our new internet friends, and even Glenn Beck himself, are taking their eyes off the real international Jewish conspiracy, started by someone who called himself "Jesus Christ." Or is that his real name?

Joshua of Nazareth, whose agents call him by his Greek alias "Jesus Christos," was a Palestinian Jew with a very serious criminal record, someone routinely denounced by responsible religious leaders. He is on public record threatening the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which (coincidence?) was subsequently destroyed. "Christos" began with a small conspiracy of 12 followers, each of whom was instructed to go out and make further converts who would go out and make further converts, until today the conspiracy is literally over a billion people. And what were those people pledged to do?

Destroy capitalism. Redistribute wealth. Look down on the hard-working rich, and the rightful Roman authorities, while doing just about everything for criminals, sex workers, and the poor. Does that sound American to you?

Listen to this hate speech: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven." Why the persecution of the rich? Why the Jewish liberal class warfare? How long are we going to stand for this?

It's always about giving to the poor, and giving to the poor, and taking from the rich. In Jesus's world, a poor widow who gives two tiny coins to charity is somehow better than a rich person who makes a large, generous donation! And why? Just because he's rich and she's poor! Do the research for yourself; some of his followers (who use assumed names themselves) actually brag about him saying these things, and he's said all kinds of things like it. They leave this kind of propaganda in motel rooms around the nation, hoping to brainwash unsuspecting Americans!

And do you know who Jesus wants to give your hard earned money to? Lepers. That's right. And minorities, like the Samaritans, because for Jesus it's "racist" to love your own group more than the other. He tells all of these little "teaching" stories about Samaritans who are better and kinder and more religious than Jews! That's the kind of hatred we're dealing with.

Maybe it's too late to completely root out this international Jewish conspiracy to foster peace, charity and love. But don't worry. There are plenty of hard-working, true believing Americans all over this country right now, doing their damnedest to stop it. And they've still got a fighting chance.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Short Lesson of the 2010 Elections

cross-posted at Dagblog

So almost every op-ed page agrees that the lessons of the 2010 midterms are as follows:

1) The Democrats should compromise more with the Republicans, because the Republicans now have about a 50-vote majority in the House.

2) The Republicans should get to decide what counts as "compromise," because the voters are on their side.

3) Obama should apologize to everyone, all the time, for everything he did in his first two years as President. He has been Rebuked by the People and should atone for his Sin of Pride.

That's certainly one way to look at it. Here's another:

The Republicans just made serious gains by not compromising. They turned Not Compromising into 60+ House seats. If last Tuesday night was a shellacking for Democrats, the last election (and truth be told, the one before) can only be described as a shellackety-ackety-acking for the GOP. Even their big angry red wave in 2010 couldn't put the Democrats in a hole as deep as Boehner and Cantor were standing in two years ago, with their sorry 180 seats to Pelosi's 255. Never mind the big Presidential loss they'd taken, and their lopsided weakness in the Senate. But they decided that they had not been Rebuked by the People, no matter what the vote count looked like. They decided they were the True Voice of the People and acted accordingly.

I freely admit that being in opposition and being in the White House require different strategies. But even so, the post-election consensus among opinion journalists flunks the Listening to Themselves Test, badly. The Republicans just followed a political stragegy to major Election-Night gains, and the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats should not follow that strategy.

This advice is either counter-intuitive or just plain stupid. If it comes with a reasonable explanation and an alternative strategy, it's counter-intuitive. If it's just announced as plain common sense, it's plainly stupid.

Democrats should never pay attention to what the Republicans say (or vice versa). The Republicans have absolutely no interest in giving their opponents useful advice. Democrats should pay attention to what their opponents do. That's the lesson. If the other side beats you by playing aggressively and working the refs as hard as they can, you don't counter that by playing less aggressively yourself. Either you figure out a way to make their strategy work against them, or you hit 'em hard and cry foul as loudly as you can. That's what they would do.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

There Is No Center

cross-posted at

Since the election, and in fact for some time before, pundits have been demanding that President Obama move to "the center." They don't have a lot of details, usually, about where that center is, and if they do suggest a detail it usually comes from one side of current debates, but they're all convinced that Obama needs to go there. But there's a reason that pundits can't describe this magical "center" better. It doesn't exist.

Obama can't move to the center, at least on the question of the economy, because there is no center. It's been his attempts to stand on that non-existent middle ground that have left him with nowhere firm to stand.

Usually I am all for discussing the middle ground. And I despise the "false dilemma" scam, which pretends that there are only two extreme choices when actually there are dozens of better ones between them. In most debates there is plenty of middle ground and only charlatans or fanatics deny that. But there are questions that actually do come down to only two choices, because the debate isn't just about practical details but about an underlying theory of how things work in the first place. Debates about strategy and tactics have many possible answers; debates about fundamental models often have only two. Our economic arguments are arguments about basic models of the economy.

Here are some questions that have no middle ground:

Does the Earth orbit the Sun or the Sun orbit the Earth?

Is disease caused by germs?

Do childhood measles vaccinations cause autism?

Can witches cause illness and harm livestock?

Does my car have anti-lock brakes or not?

These questions (and there are many like them) don't entertain compromise, and people who tried to offer "reasonable compromises" on the question the Earth orbiting the Sun and the Sun orbiting the Earth really came up with gobbledygook. It's one basic model or it's the other. And the theory we have about the basic way things work locks us into some pretty high-stakes decisions. Most of the time it doesn't matter whether I have anti-lock brakes or not, because I'm keeping a safe distance from the car in front of me and braking gradually. But if I suddenly need to stop in fifteen yards, because of the car in front of me on the highway crashes, it matters a lot: either I need to step on the brakes as hard as I can, without fear of locking them, or I need to keep them from locking, even if it slows my braking speed. I really have to choose.

If vaccines really did cause autism, I would need to protect my (hypothetical) infant children from autism; since they don't, I need to protect them from measles, mumps, and rubella. If I believed in witches with magical powers, Rebecca Nurse would be a menace to everyone in Salem; since I don't, I think the real danger is Reverend Parris and his murderous witch hunts. There is no middle ground on the Salem question: either Rebecca Nurse or Rev. Parris is a serious public danger. There's no room for saying "both sides" are to blame. They can't be. And, as in the Salem case, attempts to stake out middle ground only help the wrong the side; if you say, "Witches are a serious public danger, but we should pay more attention to procedure when we try them," then you are supporting the witch trials. (And forget about the more cautious legal procedure. That's off the table.)

You can and should concede practical points to people on the other side of policy debates, when both sides agree on the basic underlying realities. But if you try to
"compromise" by conceding that your opponent's basic model of reality is true, you have lost. If you concede that there are witches, people are going to get hanged. If you concede that vaccination "apparently plays some role which deserves further study" in childhood autism, then some kids are going to go unvaccinated and get the mumps, and some of those kids will die. Don't pump and pump your anti-lock brakes just to keep a backseat driver happy, if you're a couple yards from crashing into a pile-up. Just stop the damned car.

Our current political debates are full of basic arguments about underlying models, debates in which there is no middle ground for compromise. Either carbon emissions are causing global warming or they are not; what we should do next depends on the answer. Once one accepts that global warming is real, and caused by carbon emissions, there are all kinds of practical questions about what to do about that, and reasonable compromises, but there's no compromising with the belief that global warming isn't happening. There's no point in trying to find "middle ground" with the birthers, or more seriously with Republicans who want to eliminate the FDA. Either the FDA is necessary to protect public health or it isn't. But the most important either/or question at the moment is this one:

Does cutting government spending help or hurt an economy that's stuck in a bad recession?

It is very clear that the Republicans, especially the ones who were most triumphant the other night, believe that cutting government spending will improve the economy. John Boehner promised to focus on "cutting spending and creating jobs." It sounds like he believes that the first helps accomplish the second. Rand Paul, who is nothing if not firm in his beliefs, wants to balance the budget, right now. This of course, is what Herbert Hoover did the last time we had such a grievous economic setback. Of course, from the other point of view, frequently explained by Paul Krugman, this is the worst possible thing to do. Since recessions are caused by a massive overall cutback in spending (in fact, since everybody cutting back on spending at once is what a recession is), having the federal government suddenly enact massive spending cuts only deepens the problem. There is no middle ground between these theories.

There is no arguing this policy on the details. It is a choice between basic underlying models of how the economy works. John Maynard Keynes was basically right, or basically wrong. Milton Friedman either understood how recessions work, or he profoundly misunderstood them. We should hit the gas or we should hit the brakes. Hitting the gas and hitting the brakes at the same time is not one of the choices.

The economic middle ground that Obama is supposed to move to, the brakes-and-gas-pedal strategy so beloved by dignified, respectable, and fundamentally innumerate opinion columnists, is where he started out. The early 2009 stimulus package, which Krugman rightly decried as too small for the shortfall in national demand, was put together by people who couldn't decide if government spending was good or bad. The result managed to be the worst of both worlds: not enough to turn the economy around, but more than enough to worry people about the expense. And worse, as Krugman points out, Obama has a bad habit of conceding the "spending is bad" model:
I felt a sense of despair during Mr. Obama’s first State of the Union address, in which he declared that “families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” Not only was this bad economics — right now the government must spend, because the private sector can’t or won’t — it was almost a verbatim repeat of what John Boehner, the soon-to-be House speaker, said when attacking the original stimulus. If the president won’t speak up for his own economic philosophy, who will?

We have a choice. We can cut government spending, and throw cops and teachers and firefighters out of work, and see how that picks up the economy. Or we can take advantage of the ridiculously low current interest rates on government debt in order to spend on things which we actually need and can use: fixing our roads and bridges, improving our transportation system, funding crucial technological research before competitors like China get ahead of us. We can choose between a model in which government spends in the lean years and pays down debt in the fat years, or a model in which it cuts harder when times are tough. And President Obama can choose between championing one theory about how the world works or another. It can't be both. The Earth orbits the Sun, or it doesn't.

There is no middle ground. It has already collapsed under our feet.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Circular Firing Squad Next Time

cross-posted at Dagblog

I guess I wasn't the only person who woke up this morning focusing on the next election cycle. Erick Erickson of Red State opened discussion of which Republican Senators to challenge in the 2012 primaries at 8 am this morning. (h/t DougJ) Erickson's post is titled "Potential Tea Party Targets for 2012."

Which Republican Senators make his initial list? All of them.

Here is a list of potential targets for primaries — these are all of the Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2012:

John Barasso (WY)
Scott Brown (MA)
Bob Corker (TN)
John Ensign (NV)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
Jon Kyl (AZ)
Richard Lugar (IN)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Roger Wicker (MS)

Note that this is just the list of Senate Republicans running. Not all will be targets, but it will be from these men and women that the tea party movement starts looking for targets.

Now, before you all get giddy about Olympia Snowe, I would respectfully suggest that Corker, Hatch, Hutchison, Lugar, and Wicker make better targets as we have a much greater certainty of both beating them in primaries and also winning the general election.

Wicker and Corker in particular make exciting prospects for the tea party movement.

That's just amazing strategery there. The list itself doesn't look terribly appetizing from the Democratic viewpoint: the Republicans only have to defend 10 of their 47 seats next cycle, and most of the seats they'll be defending are in what is currently deep red territory, forcing the Democrats to expand their map in a big way if they're going to play offense. Brown is certainly someone the Democrats will want to challenge, and if he looks vulnerable I'd expect a strong challenger.

That part of the Republican base, or at least the right-wing-pundit base, is so deeply committed to intramural bloodletting is startling. It certainly suggests that Republican incumbents will feel a genuine pressure not to compromise with the Democrats. That's not good if you're looking for the country to actually be, you know, governed. It also suggests that the national Republicans may still be in for a bumpy ride. I've never seen the circular firing squad forming up the day after a victory before.

Erickson might try to keep the Tea Party faithful from going after Snowe or Brown, but it's not as if they take marching orders from anyone. If the "practical" Tea Party types are going after Bob Corker and Roger Wicker, and simply hoping that their fellows in the movement will have the tactical sense to leave Snowe and Brown alone ... that doesn't seem likely.

Of course, both Erickson and I are blogging as if the political environment in early 2012 will be unchanged from the political environment today, which is never a safe bet. But I certainly expect the Tea Party elements of the GOP to be angered and disappointed by the conduct of the House and Senate, no matter what happens. (They will be angry if Boehner and McConnell eventually come around to some kind of deal with Obama and Reid. But they will also be angry if the GOP adopts the most extremist tactics possible, because short of a two-thirds supermajority in both houses, those tactics will fail, and the Tea Party crowd will look for RINO scapegoats when they do.) And part of me wonders what happens in states where senatorial, gubernatorial, and House primaries happen on the same day that presidential primaries do ... that's a lot of political passion to stir into the mix.

My Election Night

cross-posted at Dagblog

Tuesday morning was a beautiful day in Cleveland: crisp, clear and golden. I dressed up a bit, as I always do on Election Day. I heard a radio story a few years back about some college students who had put on ties because they were voting for the first time and it felt special, and I thought, Yes. It should always be celebrated. So now I do the same, even on days when my party is predicted to take some hard losses.

I got to my polling place after the morning rush had ended. Voting was quick, and quiet. My local poll workers, as always, were friendly and good at their jobs. Then I spent the rest of the day at work: a union meeting, the library, various necessary conversations with various colleagues, an oral defense by a student completing his master's thesis. I spent the afternoon away from national politics and immersed in everyday workplace politics: how can we best frame X's achievements to help the tenure committee understand them? How will we handle a big upcoming batch of extra service work? Could I get colleague Y's advice, just for a couple minutes, on one of my pet projects? My M.A. student did splendidly, walking into the exam room convinced that he was no good at oral presentations and walking out with high honors (although not really convinced by them, either). Of course, half an hour later that student was back at his work-study job in the library, and I was standing across from his desk with a stack of books to check out; no glory, really. The best I could do was boast about him to every one of his supervisors and co-workers who came in range, and repeat the phrase "High Honors" as often as possible. Then I went home to pack my bags: like many academics, I don't live in the same place as the person I live with, and so I spent last night driving to my partner's town. But even as I was packing the election news stayed off, because I was on the phone with a colleague who had just mailed his first book to a publisher and needed to talk through the last few exhausting weeks of revision.

I didn't get into the car until the polls had closed. NPR was running down the early results, which weren't surprising. The losses were losses I expected. When the Cleveland radio signal broke up, I scanned up and down the radio dial, stopping wherever it felt right. There's a lot of classic rock waiting out there between the big cities, and a lot of other things, too. I listened to county returns coming in in rural Ohio, a long list of local spending measures: 68 to 31 for the firehouse levy, 61 to 39 for the school levy, 52 to 47 for a local restaurant's liquor license. I found it oddly soothing. I hit an old jazz program and then drove out of its signal range. I heard Rand Paul's victory speech, and early returns from the Pennsylvania Senate race. I listened to old AM hits from the seventies, and to the Stones. At a rest stop I saw CNN broadcasting Boehner's victory speech. I stumbled on an early Beethoven symphony that seemed to fit the late hour and the clear, wintry night. And I found, to my great surprise, that I was not depressed. The election was as bad as predicted, or almost, but not worse. I knew I would be upset over the next two years about specific legislation; I would be upset the next day, when I thought about the governorships and state legislatures across the Rust Belt, now held by sworn budget-cutters in a deep recession. But I'd dreaded my election-night drive, picturing myself listening miserably to election results for mile after mile, and that misery didn't come.

I wasn't pleased. The results will not be good for the country. But I discovered that I had stopped focusing on what Democrats and progressives might lose and start focusing on how to move forward again. Last night was not the last election I expect my side to lose. I'm going to see them win again, and lose again, many more times, and progress will stutter or step back and then keep gaining ground. It doesn't matter how many lumps we take on the way. Nothing in politics is ever over. The question isn't whether you got what you want this time, or even if you'll get what you want next time. I'm a progressive; it's always been about the future, and I never expected to get there all at once. There are two years until the next election. Those are going to be two tough years for the Democrats in Washington, and it's going to take all of their sweat and tears to keep the Republicans from doing further economic harm to our country. But my job isn't to fight the Republicans in Congress; my job is to fight for more Democrats and progressives next time around. And now there's nothing for me to think about but next time.

I got home, where the person I love is, in the early hours of the morning on a cold, clear night. I could see the stars; I could see my own breath in front of me. It was the first night of winter, and it came a little sooner than I'd hoped, but I always expected winter to come. And I felt ready.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day

Today's Election Day. No day makes me prouder to be American.

Go out and vote!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Republicans Against the Right to Vote

cross-posted at Dagblog

The first time I went to the polls on Election Day I was probably five, tagging along beside my mother. It was a brilliant November day in New Hampshire, and the polls were in a spare room of the town hall, the same room where I would go in later years for Cub Scout meetings and later still walk through on the way to help stock our town's tiny food assistance pantry. There was a larger room upstairs, where the annual Town Meeting was held and where I would someday go for Halloween parties and the soap box derby. The thing I remember most clearly was walking out of Town Hall after Mom was through voting. About ten feet in front of us, an exit poller asked an older man, a genuinely flinty-looking old Yankee, who he'd voted for. He declined to say, with a curt-and-not-unfriendly "no," and kept walking. I asked my mother why the man hadn't answered the question.

"You don't have to tell anyone how you voted," she said. As a five-year-old, I was awestruck by the idea of not having to do anything; that no one could make you was basically the most impressive thing I ever heard. I didn't know the words "inalienable" or "citizen," but the lesson got across and it stuck with me. I can still see the set of that old man's shoulders and his proud, confident stride in the autumn sunlight. It's my picture of American citizenship.

I pretty much fell in love with voting, right then. Haven't gotten over it. Never will.

Six years ago I moved to Ohio, four months before a national election: clearly long enough to establish residency to vote, but more importantly clearly too long to vote in my previous state of residence. The law was very clear about where I should be voting. But there was a problem: the Ohio Secretary of State was actively trying to discourage voter registration.

You read that right. The Secretary of State, the person in charge of state elections, wanted to keep new voters from registering, and actively tried to lay the groundwork to have voter registrations challenged and thrown out. Why? Because he was a Republican, and he thought that the Democrats' voter-registration drive would hurt his party. My favorite moment was when he declared that new voters' registration cards would be summarily thrown out unless they were on 80-pound paper stock. (For comparison, bond paper for legal documents is typically 20 or 24 pounds.) This gambit ultimately failed when it turned out that the Ohio Secretary of State's office did not actually have any paper that heavy itself. Then the Republican Party won the right to put challengers, not observers but challengers, inside polling places on Election Day, trying to get votes thrown out.

As a newly registered voter, I took that to heart. For the first time in my life, I went to my legal polling place feeling nervous about my rights as an American citizen. It was the Ohio Republican Party that made me worry about the exercise of my rights.

That was the first election that I worked as a Democratic volunteer.

The national Republican Party and the Tea Party movement both remain deeply committed to preventing other Americans from voting. They routinely use bogus accusations of voter fraud, dirty tricks, and even illegal polling-place electioneering in order to deprive fellow Americans of their most basic rights as Americans. I have met a voter who had a Republican challenger try to throw out his vote because he signed a "Junior" at the end of his name and the printed list had left out the "junior." That's the spirit of democracy right there. Two years ago, someone went through an African-American neighborhood in Cleveland and put misleading stickers on door hangers: the door hangers reminded people to vote; the stickers were added to deliberately give those voters the wrong address for the polls, hoping that those Americans would be disenfranchised. I saw those stickers myself.

There is no excuse for this. And this is not conservatism. This not American. It's an admission that the Republicans know their policies are bad, and want to prevent people from having their say. But even if the Republicans had the soundest policy ideas in the world, it would be wrong. They have no right to take away anyone else's vote.

Don't tell me about their traditional values. I grew up in a little New England town that still had a town meeting: everyone in town showed up at the town hall and voted on the budget, line by line. I know what old-fashioned American democracy looks like. This is not it. I disagree with the Republicans on policy because I'm a progressive. But it's the conservative part of me, the part that loves what is old and best in America, that actually hates them.

If the Tea Party lends itself to voter suppression and intimidation, it has no right even to speak about the Founders or the Sons of Liberty. Voter suppression is an attack on the Constitution. It is an affront to the Declaration of Independence. And anyone who obstructs another American's rights as a citizen has broken faith with America. This is not an expression of "small town values." It not traditional. It is not conservative. It is an expression of something new, and vicious. It is an expression of hatred for individual rights and personal liberty.

There are issues that require compromise, when compromise is reasonable. The right to vote is not one of them. It never will be.