Donnie and Bernie Are the Best and Worst

After Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, I wondered what the heck is going on in New Hampshire. Do those guys really think either of these two could lead the United States? Trump is a blowhard–the sort of person we made fun of when I was a child and forever immortalized by Pee Wee Herman’s “I meant to do that.” Can Trump the Perfect actually get Congress to do anything when everyone finds out the emperor has no clothes? When I think of a potential Sanders presidency, all I can think of is how much trouble slightly right-of-center President Obama had with Congress. Can Sanders’ left-of-center ideas go anywhere without executive orders strengthening the presidency at the expense of the Congress? In these respects, I can’t imagine two worse candidates for how our country is supposed to work.

At the same time, they represent exactly the same thing: the long taken-for-granted people in their respective parties. The Democrats have moved only to the right since Carter. They created blue dogs who eventually just gave out and turned red. The Republican’s famous Southern Strategy relied on using race as a wedge–bringing in white people at the bottom end of the economic spectrum (who had historically voted for Democrats) and using them to beef up the top end’s candidates. Both parties ignored ever-growing constituencies on either side of the center.

I have been waiting since G.W. Bush for the Republicans to splinter. His wars…his economic policies…his social policies…none of these made everyone happy in his party. Remember his plan to “save” Social Security? What about Harriet Miers? A piece did eventually chip off, the Tea Party, but mostly, it seems, because Bush liked Mexicans.

Hillary Clinton has been the presumptive nominee for the Democrats for years now. Because she isn’t surrounded by normal people, she was unprepared for the Democrats to have a splintering of their own. Sanders’ success is the wake up call she failed to answer after losing to Obama, a candidate all my peers thought would move the country back to the left (but didn’t in any measurable way). Now people are angry that they are drowning in debts they owe to the federal government (student loans). They hate that Obamacare is effectively a handout to the insurance industry (a group long hated by anyone who ever had to call and ask a question about their coverage).

Primary season is here. The voiceless and ignored are finally being heard after decades. We live in interesting times.

2016

I am pretty excited about the arrival of 2016. Why? Because I have been waiting four years to watch 2016 Obama’s America, the masterpiece of 2012!

Dinesh D’Souza‘s critique and warning of what the world would look like in 2016 was widely seen, particularly for political documentaries. The reviews at the time were pretty scathing with a Tomatomater rating of 25%. I paid it little attention at the time, but decided if the president won a second term, I would watch the documentary in 2016.

The film is a bit difficult to find today. However one streaming service offers it: Hulu.

After watching it, I am a bit disappointed. I hoped it would make some real predictions about 2016. The film mostly suggests that President Obama’s rampant anti-colonialism will destroy the United States by raising taxes to as much as 100% of income in an attempt to redistribute that money not to poor people here, but poor people abroad. Obama is criticized for not using his position as president to make his extended international family wealthy as well. D’Souza also indicates that Obama has never, nor will he ever, take a stand against Iran’s nuclear program because he is in favor of Iran and similar countries throwing off the yoke of colonialism.

D’Souza does speak to a couple of people who know the president, but it’s mostly filled with people afraid of him guessing about things he might do while presenting them as things they know he will do.

At the time, some people praised the production values as a higher class of political polemic, however there are many instances of bad audio, poor looping and sometimes no mics being used at all. The issues are constant enough to cast doubt in one bit where the filmmakers appear to be acting slyly. The clip features the president at some manner of a town hall. He is fumbling with his words, stopping and starting, starting and stopping. At the end of the clip, he tells the crowd he is happy they are fired up, but he needs to finish what he is saying. Of course, you only hear audio from his microphone with no sound heard from the crowd even though the president references it. Are they trying to make him look bad for starting and restarting when not using a teleprompter? Or is it that the editor is so inexperienced he didn’t know you are supposed to add in natural sound? Maybe the confusion about it is intentional.

I was a bit baffled as D’Souza hammered George Obama because he wasn’t angry that he hadn’t suddenly become wealthy and powerful because of his relationship with the president. It’s as if D’Souza is upset that nepotism didn’t run rampant. Is he suggesting that if he were elected that it would?

Ultimately, it wasn’t worth the four year wait to see the film, although I am glad waiting saved me from seeing it for a few years.

Voting Rights and You

Sections of the Voting Act were weakened over the summer because of decisions in the U.S. Supreme Court. The state of Texas is currently in a battle with the Dept. of Justice over their new voter identification law. These things are sewn together by remnants of the U.S. Civil War.

Immediately after the war ended in 1865, white males who fought against the Union lost their right to vote. At the same time, black men gained the right to vote. All over the former Confederacy, black men were elected to governorships and the Senate. But even a well-earned imbalance is still an imbalance. As the period known as Reconstruction ended, rich white men made compromises that saw them regain their voting rights. Like before, an imbalance was fought with another imbalance: There were suddenly new requirements to vote–literacy tests, poll taxes–not to mention general efforts to physically keep them away from the voting booth by organizations like the Klu Klux Klan.

Most of these things were cleared up legally in the 1960s by the Voting Rights Act. Since the South was seen as the most egregious violator, special rules were enacted. The states of the former Confederacy (and a couple out West) had to submit their redistricting plans to federal officials for approval before they could take effect to make sure black voters weren’t being gerrymandered into nothingness. As recently as the last few years, then Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said the process was not a problem, and he had no intention of joining with some of the other states to challenge the provision in court.

Every 10 years, using the results of the decennial census are used to remap the voting districts. That state governments have used this to increase the power of their political party in the state should come as no surprise. It’s been going on since the term “gerrymandering” was coined in 1812. Now the demographics of the United States are changing unlike any period in the country’s history. This has some white males afraid, so in Texas, a group found ways to minimize the Hispanic voters so they’d be less of an issue for members of their political party for the next decade. The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, took issue with this and has started legal proceedings to stop it.

It all seems on the up and up until you consider Mississippi where the former governor had no problem with the federal oversight provisions. Mississippi has the lowest percentage of white citizens of any state at 59.9%. Black people are the largest minority and make up 37.3% of the state’s population. Mississippi has four members of the House of Representatives. One of those, Congressman Bennie Thompson, has a district that runs the length of the state that touches the Mississippi River and juts in to take a county or two inward in places if those counties have large percentages of black voters. It’s gerrymander-ific! It also means that the nearly 40% black population is lumped so they effect only 25% of our representation in the House.

How, you ask, can it be so if the federal government approves the districting plans? There are two possible answers: First, they don’t care; second, they like it that way. Government never likes change. Mississippi is the state closest to the tipping point for a non-white majority. The inequalities of the past generally keep Mississippi at the bottom of national rankings–that is, historically worse educational opportunities for a growing, soon-to-be majority black population mean that a line had to be drawn to protect white privilege for as long as possible. Who but white men from Ole Miss can save the black population from themselves?

To bring this back to the main thesis of this article, if you think about what the federal government has no problem (40% of the population in one superdistrict), you can only imagine what’s laying in wait in Texas, a state where everything is bigger–especially fear of minorities.

I write this because I haven’t seen this point raised in any news story or editorial I have read about the situation.

Less than 500km from where I sit right now, the soldiers came.  At gun point, they were forced from their homes.  Allowed to take only what they could carry, they were forced onto buses.  The buses took them to rail yards.  At the rail yards, they were loaded onto trains.  From there, like ashes to the wind, they were scattered.

Their homes were given to new families.  Their cemeteries were destroyed.  Some of them were paved with concrete to create new shopping areas.  While this happened, those trains chugged their way to Asia.  Those that died were merely tossed out of the rail cars by soldiers.  They were thousands of kilometers away before the journey ended.

While those on the trains had heard no accusations against them, those who lived where they arrived had.  They were called “betrayers” by those who greeted them.  Some were given clothes suitable for the new climate they inhabited.  Some were not.  A young teenager fed her family by smuggling potatoes from the collective farm where she worked.  Two thousand miles away, a girl less than half her age fed her family by singing on the street.  All of them had a new language to learn.  Theirs was banned.  Books in their language were destroyed.  Their ethnicity was removed from government census forms.  As a people, the government said the no longer existed.

Some of them resisted.  Some protested and were sent away never to return.  Some of them began to work the political machine looking for allies.  The most important of them protested by keeping their customs alive at home.  If someone wanted to cook and share the food with their neighbors on a particular day, what could be done to stop them?  If they wanted to tell their children about their homeland, who could interfere?

Almost 50 years later, they were finally able to begin returning home…if they could afford it.  Where they arrived to was not the same place as when they were forced to leave, but at least it was home.  Some 25 years later, not all the damage has been undone.  There are still those that mutter “betrayer” under their breath.  There are those that use their ethnic identity as a slur.

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Sürgün — the exile of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland.

A special thanks to those Crimean Tatars who have opened their homes and hearts to me and those that chose to share with me their stories.  Some of these stories can be found at www.eastword.org.

Mass Sterilization in the News

After the news earlier in the week about Uzbekistan’s secret sterilization program, the Guardian pulls the veil back a bit on India’s program to sterilize the poor, a program partially funded by Britain’s DfID.

“With officials and doctors paid a bonus for every operation, poor and little-educated men and women in rural areas are routinely rounded up and sterilised without having a chance to object,” the Guardian article states.

Compare this to the secret Uzbek initiative:  “Every year we are presented with a plan. Every doctor is told how many women we are expected to give contraception to; how many women are to be sterilised,” says a gynaecologist from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

I’m told that the Uzbek program isn’t terribly different from Soviet policies in Central Asia.