The Transparency of Ignorance

To quote an insightful contributor: “I have to hand it to Ross Douthat. He is very skilled at advancing the racist cause of the American Right Wing under the guise of a sensible-sounding pep talk.”

His disingenuous advocacy is a large example of the reason for the Republican fail. He is a dupe to “the looking glass syndrome,” the inability to see an honest reflection, the incapacity to put forth an honest program or describe an honest reality. He and legions of officials and writers see freedom as a tool for denying rights to others. They offer no proven concept of freedom to advance a single cause of public good (unless it’s privatized). 

Notice how no hearings investigated Booz. Notice how quickly Texas announced the roll out of two laws blocked under Section 5, even before the lower court lifted its stay.

bk-nm-3888-2.jpgWhat makes the argument particularly egregious is its transparent ignorance. Ballot security continues to be the ignored hot button issue the GOP leaves unaddressed. Ripped bags, missing bags, broken locks, unaccounted for ballots, unverified counts have long been the main misdeeds of election rigging. 

Republican demagogy ignores what NYU’s Brennan Center wrote: “We have analyzed more than 250 claims of fraud submitted by those supporting the respondents in the Supreme Court’s photo ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. We find absolutely no proven cases of fraudulent votes that could be prevented by the restrictive ID law being challenged.”

Culture First, Politics Follows

(Click to change slides. Review the outline, main points, and take the thought challenge. Text follows. /wr)

In periods of cultural transitions, illusions prevail, and the goals of protests are intangibles. In such a period now, a multi-leveled, massive cultural shift is being confused and identified with political protest. Women are on the front lines of this cultural revolution, in local communities globally, as earners and as targets of physical, conflict or state violence by men from Brasil to India to US–where men in the military (sexual assaults are higher percentage-wise than among civilians), state houses and Congress refuse to recognize a new status for women and insult, shame, and belittle women (Rick Perry) who stand up to intimidation and legislation.

India and Brasil have seen the rise of protest tied to women aimed at redefining the broader aims of government. They seek the elimination of corruption, indifferent safety performance by police and judges, and expanded basic services in transportation and higher wages.

Another level of cultural transition is being led in the global streets of North Africa and Asia Minor, right now in Turkey and Egypt, by a younger generation to whom many elders are looking to for the future. That transition gathers in public squares to break both tradition and fear, and to challenge the priorities of the state and elected rulers who seek to curtail expanded rights.

In the US, however, the illusion of digital gadgets and other distractions offer a false alchemy of prosperity, and a shift away from politics. Not a sense of entitlement–that’s an extreme–but a sense of ease: visit a Walmart anywhere any weekend.

The US’ biggest test of its changing cultural values and meanings was its election of a black President. Race hit a low ceiling as a negative applied to Obama. The Occupy Movement reasserted values of equality and community within  government’s policies. The US is experiencing a shift in attitudes about same sex marriage and a firming up of support for women’s reproductive rights.

In the US, pockets of violence and bad actors have been contained and firewalled; progressive leadership removed as schools are devastated. Albeit with lower crime, Newark is an example of how these communities become stepping stones without transformative change.

Cultural change happens first, in front of politics. It’s what we are seeing now.

Click, theh click again after it opens for amazing enlarged HD image.

Click, theh click again after it opens for amazing enlarged HD image.

Variation 1: The Restoration of Values

Oppression creates two classes of victims, although one class suffers greater hardship. But the oppressed must be carefully not to overweigh the differences or else they follow their oppressors into creating rigid, unyielding views. If they do, they split the world in absolutes, each pointing to the other as its justification.

What sets the oppressed apart is not their struggle, but their relentless humanity; not their victory or punishment or insistence on accountability, but their restoration of the rich quality of values and acts the oppressor has destroyed.

A mother who cleans the hair of her child, known as "Mother Task ', Pieter de Hooch, ca 1658 - ca 1660. Click, then re-click for enlarged HD image. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

A mother who cleans the hair of her child, known as “Mother Task ‘, Pieter de Hooch, ca 1658 – ca 1660. Click, then re-click for enlarged HD image. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

This predicament is intended to push us to grace, to subdue the self-interest of our judgment by offering to others what we would reclaim.

In Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” Moishe the Beadle says to a young Elie Wiesel that every question possessed a power that is lost in the answer. The same is true for acts.

Sometimes, oppression means, we only listen and grieve. Those who are swept along in the hubris, who show signs of trying but have stumbled, should know the mercy of justice and our grief. For they are victims by the same system.

And Wiesel reminds us somehow that the same mercy must be offered to those that created the conditions, even while mercy does not forgive their sin.

Texas’ Abortion Flim-Flam

With a typical stare in the looking glass, to achieve admitting privileges, doctors have to refer patients to the hospital. It’s a business deal for the hospital. That deal is being leveraged by Texas SB5 to put abortion clinics out of business by eliminating service providers. To qualify for admitting privileges, doctors would have to turn into inept practitioners, failing horribly at the purpose of offering safe procedures without complications. Or move their practices to rural areas. And often no hospitals are near clinics within the radius of 30 miles.

Ahh, the impossible things!

Hospitals don’t want to perform abortions. And won’t provide admission rights to doctors who perform them successfully at clinics, because there are no referrals. And Texas women lose, not gain, the right to choose, forced by a party that sees small government as a part of its mission of tyranny and a main purpose of freedom as denial.

By the way, in first and second teenage pregnancies, Texas, our second largest state, respectively ranks second and first!

The Toilet of Bathsheba, Cornelis Cornelisz. Haarlem, 1594.

The Toilet of Bathsheba, Cornelis Cornelisz. Haarlem, 1594.

Saving The Green Begins At Home!

(A lot of my NYTimes comments are short fact pieces. Why? Greater reader interest, sharing new ideas and actual examples, detailing trends, and humbly adding to the majestic Times brand. I fact check as I write. Fact pieces are descriptive narratives and depend on the order of details and rhythm to keep readers engaged. Here’s a post about Germany’s green housing for Paul Krugman’s column that received the Times Editors gold badge. /wr)


From high to low, green energy unites and divides the world, but US corporate and legislative policy, combined with policy that fails to view obvious opportunities furthers pushes the US to the fringe.

In the middle of green opportunities is housing: Germany is building over 15,000 homes now using an incredibly simple technology to heat a family’s living space, The technology is passive, has no moving parts and requires no electric or external power. The technology is green, renewable, and does no damage to the environment. The technology doesn’t require investing in solar panels, nor does the house have to be buried in the earth. And even more, these wonder houses have no drafts, cold floors, or waits for the house to “warm up” when you come home.

It integrates three phases: first, it builds a house which is sealed airtight. The house is a shell which is encased in ultra thick insulation, allowing no heat or cooling to escape. The windows, which open, are heavily insulated. Secondly, the house adds a central ventilation system (which requires different duct work than normal heating or air).

The ventilation system brings in outside air filtered through a HEPA filter. The air is fresh and cleaned of pollen, microbes, micro-particles, smoke, and other impurities. Thirdly, the incoming air bypasses the outgoing air; they travel in separate ducts. As they pass each other, a heat exchanger, a big rectangular insulated box, transfers the heat of the outgoing, stale air to the incoming fresh air at 90 percent efficiency! Body heat and appliances add the other ten percent! The interior temperature of the house remains consistent!

Houses built this way are called passive houses. Passive houses can actually be regulated to increase air flow or temperature. They can be designed in many styles, but work best when the site is carefully selected (the warmer the solar heated outside air, the lower the cost). Energy bills fall to 7 percent of normal totals: $250 bills become $17.50.

But US construction barriers block their adaption! The lack of manufactured systems, components, and standards in the US housing industry, and building codes further the resistance by manufacturers with a deep stake in present, less efficient technology.

Also, China has solar powered traffic lights!

Click. Then re-click for amazing HD! Rijksmuseum.

Click. Then re-click for amazing HD! Rijksmuseum.

A Jurisprudence Strategy

The observation that strategy as much as jurisprudence plays a role in the Supreme Court decisions is adroit. Looks at strategy are the only effective way to make sense of desperate issues among the states and federal authority, and of the interplay between corporate interests, conduit organizations (like ALEC and Heritage), and Congress.

Media is just catching up to an idea originated by a justice before his service on the Court, when, as well-placed Southern corporate lawyer, in a 1971 memo for the US Chamber. Lewis G. Powell, Jr. wrote:

“Strength lies in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, . . . through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”

Though extreme, the GOP has learned a unified agenda can be executed step-by-step. Is it incidental or coincidence that the Court’s review of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) occurred as GOP states put in sweeping changes to curtail voting rights and ballot access–or that Texas announced, minutes after the decision, it would make law two bills blocked by Justice under VRA, even before a lower court’s stay was lifted?

Women’s rights on income, health, reproduction, and violence against them, face the same incremental strategy.

And with separate standards by race in two states, (VA, FL) so does education.

Among conservatives, defense and offense are played at the same time and are often tied together, up and down, to increase power and pain.

Allegory of the inviolability of the law, William Isaacsz. of Swanenburg, 1606. Click, re-click after reopening to enlarge in HD.

Allegory of the inviolability of the law, William Isaacsz. of Swanenburg, 1606. Click, re-click after reopening to enlarge in HD.

Why We Need The Voting Rights Act

By John Lewis
John Lewis, a Democrat, represents Georgia’s 5th District in the U.S. House.

This week the Supreme Court will hear one of the most important cases in our generation, Shelby County v. Holder. At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires all or parts of 16 “covered” states with long histories and contemporary records of voting discrimination to seek approval from the federal government for voting changes. The court is questioning whether Section 5 remains a necessary remedy for ongoing discrimination.

In 2006, Congress debated this very question over 10 months. We held 21 hearings, heard from more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more than 15,000 pages of evidence. We analyzed voting patterns in and outside the 16 covered jurisdictions. We considered four amendments on the floor of the House; the Senate Judiciary Committee considered several others. After all of that, Congress came to a near-unanimous conclusion: While some change has occurred, the places with a legacy of long-standing, entrenched and state-sponsored voting discrimination still have the most persistent, flagrant, contemporary records of discrimination in this country. While the 16 jurisdictions affected by Section 5 represent only 25 percent of the nation’s population, they still represent more than 80 percent of the lawsuits proving cases of voting discrimination. It is ironic and almost emblematic that the worst perpetrators are those seeking to be relieved of the responsibilities of justice. Instead of accepting the ways our society has changed and dealing with the implications of true democracy, they would rather free themselves of oversight and the obligations of equal justice. Calera, a city in Shelby County, Ala., provides a prime example. Once it was an all-white suburb of Birmingham. Rapid growth created one majority-black district that in 2004 had the power, for the first time, to elect a candidate of its choice to city government, Ernest Montgomery. Just before the 2008 election, however, the city legislature redrew the boundaries to include three white-majority districts in an effort to dilute the voting power of black citizens. The Justice Department blocked the plan, but Calera held the election anyway, and Montgomery was toppled from his seat.

On “Bloody Sunday,” nearly 50 years ago, Hosea Williams and I led 600 peaceful, nonviolent protesters attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery to dramatize the need for voting rights protection in Alabama. As we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we were attacked by state troopers who tear-gassed, clubbed and whipped us and trampled us with horses. I was hit in the head with a nightstick and suffered a concussion on the bridge. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized that day. In response, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act and later signed it into law. We have come a great distance since then, in large part thanks to the act, but efforts to undermine the voting power of minorities did not end after 1965. They still persist today.


The Supreme Court has stuck a dagger into the heart of the Voting Rights Act. Although the court did not deny that voter discrimination still exists, it gutted the most powerful tool this nation has ever had to stop discriminatory voting practices from becoming law.

Those justices were never beaten or jailed for trying to register to vote. They have no friends who gave their lives for the right to vote. I want to say to them, Come and walk in my shoes. I disagree that because the incidence of voter discrimination is not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as it was in 1965 that the contemporary problems are not a valid basis for scrutiny.

In a democracy, one act of voter discrimination should be too much. It took nearly 100 years, from 1865 to 1965, for effective voting rights legislation to be passed. The advances of the Reconstruction period — when some freed slaves were elected to Congress — were erased in a few short years, and for decades this nation turned a blind eye to some of the worst and most brutal violations of human and civil rights. Also, the purpose of the Voting Rights Act is not to increase the numbers of minority voters or elected officials. That is a byproduct of its effectiveness. The purpose of the act is to stop discriminatory practices from becoming law.

There are more black elected officials in Mississippi today not because attempts to discriminate against voters ceased but because the Voting Rights Act kept those attempts from becoming law. Just hours after the court’s decision was announced Thursday, Texas said it would immediately implement the same voter ID law declared illegal by the Justice Department.

I disagree with the court that the history of discrimination is somehow irrelevant today.  The record clearly demonstrates numerous attempts to impede voting rights still exist, and it does not matter that those attempts are not as “pervasive, widespread or rampant” as they were in 1965.  One instance of discrimination is too much in a democracy.

As Justice Ginsberg mentioned, it took a Bloody Sunday for Congress to finally decide to fix on-going, institutionalized discrimination that occurred for 100 years after the rights of freed slaves were nullified at the end of the Civil War.  I call upon the members of this body to do what is right to ensure free and fair access to the ballot box in this country.”

We do not want to go back. We must move forward. I think it is very encouraging that some members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have indicated a willingness to fix this problem. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are already meeting. I call upon my colleagues to join in a bipartisan fashion as we did in 2006 and find a way to protect access to the ballot box for all Americans.

My Father’s Business

(This is my highest rated comment all year, and is in the New York Times’ stratosphere. It’s a rare double; it received Times editors gold badge and 1500+ readers recommends. It generated 24 replies, many complimentary and personal. The title’s pun is intentional; this is part parable. /wr)

Stilleven met kazen, Floris Claesz. van Dijck, ca. 1615. Click, re-click after it opens.

Stilleven met kazen, Floris Claesz. van Dijck, ca. 1615. Click, re-click after it opens.

As did Thurgood Marshall and Patricia Harris’ fathers, my father worked as a waiter in fine dining rooms staffed by African-Americans, the women serving breads, the men wine and meals, at a time when a fish was boned at the table and a 3 minute egg was scooped into a cup without a speck of shell. It wasn’t Southern charm the waiters in the room exhibited but an elegant humanity; a flair that didn’t blend into the shadows but stood out in the glare of the twin stereotypes of anger or subservience assigned to race, then.

Some, on both sides, never got pass the caricatures. Herman Cain, for one, with a buffoon’s assumptions of self-hatred and jiving embrace of self-destruction, and others whose low self esteem and fears took everything as a joke and depended on the lowest common denominators.

No, the word or attitude was not “common,” or generational. As a lifelong Southerner, I know it was never said to anyone’s face or in their presence except to provoke violence, proof sufficient that all knew it was wrong. I can cite lists of homes where the word was unacceptable and forbidden–along with attitudes that would denigrate the dignity of a person.

Those who defend it are rewriting history as a myth.