Tag Archives: Elections

Democracy Distilled – an Infographic on Voting Rights produced by eLocal


Source: Democracy DistilledbyeLocalLawyers.com

In honor of Inauguration Day, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the folks at eLocal produced an interesting, evocative Infographic video about the history of voting rights in this country.  It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when even white men were restricted from the ballot box–the ones who were poor, that is.  The video follows how far we have come in the 237 years since independence, showing progress by state and demographic group.

This is a great resource for the classroom to show the big picture of American democracy, and to discuss where we need to go in the future.

Enjoy, and make sure to watch the Inauguration on Monday…even if you voted for the other guy.  The process of government is what makes us great, not the people in it.

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Videos for the Classroom: Election Day on Sesame Street

This was, honest to God, the very first time I ever heard about voting.

When I was a kid, it was shows like Sesame Street that introduced me to a lot of the basics of American life.  This video is still a great one to use with young students who still can’t participate in Election Day.

The best part is when David goes apeshit on Big Bird and Snuffy about voter registration.

Enjoy this classic clip of a great show before it was ruined by Elmo and the big purple dinosaur.

 

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Election Day 2010: Quotes on Democracy and Elections

"The County Election" by George Caleb Bingham (1852)

The Neighborhood will be on a brief hiatus as I will be consulting with the Associated Press on elections results from Election Day.  It’ll be a long night, and Mr. D needs his beauty rest.

Yet before I retire, it is important to stress, even if the kids aren’t there tomorrow, the importance of Election Day.  Our representative democracy works on only one principle: the people are the ultimate power.  The only way people can exercise that power fully is by voting for their respective political leaders.

Regardless of your political affiliaton, make sure you get out and vote tomorrow.  Take your time.  Study the candidates and issues.  But most importantly, make a decision.  The engine of government cannot run without our say-so.

To fill the mind and provide discussion, here are various quotes about elections and democracy: some in praise, many in scorn, yet still others with a keen eye on what is necessary for a lasting democratic society.

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” – Lord Acton

“The 20th century has been characterized by four developments of great importance: the growth of political democracy, the growth of Online Democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting
corporate power against democracy.” – Alex Care

“One does not export democracy in an armored vehicle.” – Jacques Chirac

“All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government. It gave to human existence a zest and camaraderie that outweighed its pitfalls and defects. It gave to thought and science and enterprise the freedom essential to their operation and growth. It broke down the walls of privilege and class, and in each generation it raised up ability from every rank and place.” – Will Durant

“When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against them. It’s a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks of it.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

“It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government.  Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good
feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” – Alexander Hamilton

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” – Oscar Wilde

“Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” – H.L. Mencken

“I confess I enjoy democracy immensely.  It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.” – H. L. Mencken

“Imagine if all of life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza. Every pair of pants, even those in a Brooks Brothers suit, would be stone-washed denim. Celebrity diet and exercise books would be the only thing on the shelves at the library. And —
since women are a majority of the population — we’d all be married to Mel Gibson.” – P.J. O’Rourke

“Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.” – Gore Vidal

“Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?” – Robert Orben

“Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.” – Franklin Adams

“Elections should be held on April 16th-the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.” – Thomas Sowell

“No part of the education of a politician is more indispensable than the fighting of elections.” – Winston
Churchill

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill

“Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who’ll get the blame.” – Bertrand Russell

“You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.” – G. K. Chesterton

“Education and democracy have the same goal: the fullest possible development of human capabilities.” – Paul Wellstone

“Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

…and the last word goes to the honest one himself.  We need his words now more than ever.

“You may fool all the people some of the time; you may fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

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The Devil and Jeff Spicoli: A Response to Sean Penn and Hugo Chavez

Mr. Hand: Am I hallucinating here? Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?
Jeff Spicoli: Learning about Cuba, and having some food.    – from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Sean and Hugo: It's like the blind and dumb leading the blind and dumb, only with guns and petroleum.

Like his stoner counterpart, Sean Penn has been spending time learning about other countries, often with food involved. 

Not only is he learning about Cuba, but also Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia…

The problem is that Sean’s been paying a little too much attention to his Marxist hosts, and thus spreading a deciding one-sided view of these socialist “paradises”.  He is actually making some more gullible folks think that these places are actually “better” than us.  Better than the United States that raised him, gave him a film career and allowed him to speak his mind in between his insufferably self-serving film roles. 

Nowhere is Sean more deluded than in the bailiwick of his friend Hugo Chavez, Venezuela.

Unlike most socialist shitholes, I have a visceral connection with Venezuela.  In the 1950s and 1960s, a slew of European immigrants, largely from Spain and Italy, came to Venezuela to work on their burgeoning public works projects.  Many Italians from all over the country left postwar Europe for rosier opportunities in Latin America.

Some of these Italians included my grandparents, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins and my father, who spent six years in Caracas before emigrating to the US.

The best recurring themes from my kin are the days when Venezuela was—gasp—not a shithole.  To Italian immigrants, Venezuela was a promised land with perfect weather and endless job opportunities thanks to a government that welcomed outsiders.  It made sense: the name of the place means “little Venice”, after all—too bad the only things the two places have in common today are a fetid stench and a constant sinking feeling.

So my view of Venezuela’s situation is decidedly cloudy.  I still have family there, and the situation there worries me on a personal level that could obscure my judgment.

 That doesn’t mean, however, that Sean Penn isn’t full of shit.

This week, Sean appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO and discussed his efforts in Haiti (Very commendable).  Inevitably, the subject turned to Hugo Chavez and media coverage of his regime (not so commendable).  In essence, Sean wants the media to provide more favorable coverage to this balloon head, and to jail any reporter who says otherwise.

How un-democratic. 

It’s time for me to be the Mr. Hand that finally straightens out Jeff Spicoli.  Sean made three points that are particularly irritating considering his subject matter.  Let’s tear them apart one by one.

Lie # 1: Chavez should not be called a “dictator.”

The first, and arguably the most bogus, is the whining about the media continually calling Chavez a “dictator.”  The dictionary defines a dictator as “a person exercising absolute power, especially a ruler who has absolute, unrestricted control in a government without hereditary succession.” 

Chavez, a former coup plotter, was elected president in 1998.  He then ordered a massive revision of the constitution in 1999, granting him sweeping new powers and packing the legislature and courts with his supporters.  He suppresses free expression.  He rigs judicial procedures against political opponents.  His favorites control the armed forces.  His political apparatus resembles a totalitarian surveillance regime that is slowly creating a police state.

Sean, if that’s not a dictator, I don’t know what is.  If you don’t like the term, here are a few that you may like:

Chancellor, First Consul, Princeps, Chairman, Prime Minister, General Secretary, or Generalissimo

These titles were worn proudly by such democratic luminaries as Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Caesar Augustus, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin and Francisco Franco.  All of them dictators, almost all of them rotting in a dank corner of hell.  Pretty much all of them would re-assess their role as being truly a dictator, if given the opportunity.  Hitler may be reluctant, but Joe Stalin would straighten him out.

Don’t believe me?  Human Rights Watch, not exactly a bastion of conservatism, stated in their country report on Venezuela in January that

“President Hugo Chávez and his supporters have effectively neutralized the independence of Venezuela’s judiciary. In the absence of a judicial check on its actions, the Chávez government has systematically undermined journalists’ freedom of expression, workers’ freedom of association, and the ability of civil society groups to promote human rights.”

He even uses the guise of democracy to exercise his dictatorial control.  Many left-wing pundits laud a certain aspect of the regime as the epitome of participatory democracy—the “Bolivarian circles”, and later the “Bolivarian Missions.”  The regime would have you believe that these circles are community groups coordinated to solve common problems.  The missions, furthermore, are outreach organizations to other areas of Venezuelan life.

Don’t be fooled.  I’ve seen these “circles” and missions before.  They are very effective in identifying and reporting on political opponents, much like the block captains and revolutionary committees in Cuba. 

One mission, the Mission Miranda, is particularly disturbing.  It is a civilian militia trained to defend the country in an emergency.  More likely, he’s arming his poor, deluded supporters into being cannon fodder in case the “inevitable” US-backed right-wing military coup was to take place.

Lie # 2: elections in Venezuela are “free and fair.”

Sean stated on Monday that Chavez was elected in the freest election in the hemisphere.  On the surface, he seems to be right.  In the elections between 2002 and 2009, political opponents were able to field candidates and campaign.  A lively debate ensued.  Outside monitors were in place to make sure everything was on the up-and-up. 

Yet Sean, in his naïveté, refuses to acknowledge that old Hugo would subtly stack the deck in his favor—and often not so subtly.

The 2002 and 2006 presidential elections, the 2005 legislative contests, and the 2009 referenda on constitutional amendments were all deemed “free and fair” by various international groups, including the Carter Center.  Yet each had widespread allegations of vote tampering, harassment of opponents, oppressive and biased media coverage, constitutional arm-twisting, and outright fraud.

The best example of this is the 2005 legislative election, in which seats for Chavez’ rubber stamp national assembly were contested.

After the 2002 elections, an attempted coup briefly deposed Chavez.  He quickly regained power and exerted even harsher pressure on opposition candidates than before.  Due to this more repressive climate, as well as tactics by the national election board to tamper with voting machines and disqualify candidates on trumped-up charges, the majority of the opposition boycotted the 2005 elections in protest.

The result was a “free and fair” election with just 25% turnout.  With the consent of a fraction of the Venezuelan people, with political opponents boycotting the proceedings, Chavez’s cronies gained 116 of the 167 seats in the legislature—enough to change the constitution at will.

Would we allow this in any other setting?  Would Duke automatically win a national championship if Kentucky forfeited in protest because of biased ACC officials?  Would the Red Sox simply be given a World Series ring because other teams refuse to play in a hopelessly biased Fenway Park? 

The election itself may have been conducted correctly—orderly lines, few machine mishaps, a transparent tabulation system.  Yet the circumstances behind that election show that many Venezuelans had no illusions that this system was either free or fair. 

But what about 2007, you may ask?  The 2007 referendum defeat that would have given Chavez unlimited terms of office and even more powers?  Let’s just say Hugo wasn’t going to overreach twice.

What few people realize is that Chavez got those term limits lifted, albeit quietly, in February 2009, in a referendum that many Venezuelans claim violated the very constitution Chavez forced down their throats ten years earlier. 

Yeah, Chavez really loves to play by the rules.  You have to admire a guy that is so hungry for power, he’s willing to break the same rigged rules he put in place before.

Lie # 3: Opponents of Chavez are content with oppression of the poor

Finally, Sean seems to think that Chavez is something of a zero-sum argument.  If you don’t support him, then you don’t support the poor, and you’re some kind of capitalist monster.  I would prefer not to be lumped with Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff, thank you.

Let’s be fair.  Something had to be done about the poverty in Venezuela, and numerous administrations since the 1920s have done little, if anything, to provide even a modicum of hope in their desperate lives.  Chavez, at least on paper, is an advocate for Venezuela’s underclass and counts on them as a base of support—one that has turned out in droves for him at the polls.

Now let’s see what he delivered.  There have been, I’ll admit, modest improvements in the quality of life of some poor Venezuelans: NOT all, but some.  Yet the cost of this “revolution” is disastrous.

Venezuela’s crime rate is at its highest point in its history.  The gap between rich and poor, rather than shrinking, is now wider than ever.  Nationalization measures have wrecked havoc in all major industries—even PDVSA, the state oil monopoly, which dared to defy Chavez a few years back with a threat of a strike.  2010 will be the second year in a row in which the Venezuelan economy has contracted.  Its once-vaunted infrastructure is crumbling to ruins, with rolling blackouts and abandoned roadways.  What little revenue exists is placed in pet projects, corrupt politicians, and ill-advised “relief” programs that the country cannot afford.

He’s been in power since 1998.  That’s twelve years.  We don’t give our presidents 100 days to fix things, and he’s been given three of our presidential terms.  Don’t you think the poor should be fed up with this?

Yet why don’t the poor rise up to throw out Chavez?  It’s probably because the opposition has their thumb up their butts, too.  The official opposition is a loose conglomeration of about a dozen parties, mostly the groups that used to run the show before 1998.  Not only is their opposition fractured, their message is one not even conservatives in the US want to hear: a return to the “good old days” of pre-1998. 

The one thing that Chavez did that should be acknowledged is to bring the plight of Venezuela’s poor into sharp focus.  Whoever succeeds him, whether they are from the left or right, must take their situation as part of the agenda, not shunt it aside as in generations past.

So Sean, you have every right to say what you say.  That’s the beauty of America.  It’s also something you can’t do at your buddy’s country.  Yet I also have the right to respond you your inane nonsence.

Therefore, my response to you is this: you may be right that Chavez is an advocate of the poor, but that does not mean their “liberation” comes at all costs. 

If you were dictator of the good ole’ U S of A, Sean, would you be willing to sacrifice our Constitution, our basic civil rights, our infrastructure, our financial base, our military preparedness, our popular culture, YOUR lavish lifestyle, the lifestyle of your friends, artistic and intellectual freedom, and our standing in the world—simply to make it look like you care for the little guy?

Are you willing to give up your mansions, press junkets, interviews, signing fees, bloated contracts, agents, managers and publicists for the poor and destitute?

I didn’t think so.

Class dismissed, Mr. Spicoli.

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Primary Document for the Classroom: The Alabama Literacy Test for 1965

citschoolMy friend Deven Black, who has amassed a catalog of history and social studies-related weblinks that could serve as its own doctoral dissertation, sent me a really interesting link from, funny enough, another site, the Social Studies and History Teachers blog.  Both of them are linked here at the Neighborhood.

Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the constitution, eliminating the poll tax, voters often had to climb over difficult hurdles to exercise their constitutional rights.  Until the 1830’s, most voting in the United States had a property restriction–only certain individuals with a certain amount of property could go to the polls.  Since then, the enfranchisement of Americans has extended to all adult citizens aged 18 or older. 

However, this didn’t come easy.

Even with the vote extended to African Americans in 1866, Southern governments made it particularly difficult to cast ballots.  Grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests were used to keep “undesirables” from voting–African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and poor whites.  Since voting requirements were enforced locally, it sometimes mattered more whether the registrar of voters liked you or not rather than any requirement of law.

The literacy test was among the most grotesque examples of this ham-fisted oppression.  Attached is a copy of an Alabama Literacy Test for 1965, taken from the Social Studies and History Teachers blog.  Several versions of the test were created, and this was one of the harder ones.  You can guess who the Alabama government recommended for the harder version. 

Try giving this test to your students and see if they can pass, therefore qualifying to vote. 

Click here to access the test.  It makes a great civil rights lesson, and also a lesson in the importance of knowing about government in order to participate.

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Iranian elections: Time for the Mullahs to Go?

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The problem with any omnipotent being is that eventually Toto will pull open the curtain.  What lies behind?  Our fallible, feeble selves.

Thus is the problem facing the most controversial pantless men on the planet–and I don’t mean those tribes in the Amazon.  Of course it is the all-powerful clerics that run the Islamic Republic of Iran, a 30 year floorshow that’s part Puritan witch hunt, part swap meet, and all problems for the United States, Israel, and just about any other country wear their leaders wear pants (or not, as in the Gulf emirates).

Yet turbans are getting hotter.  Controversy is sweeping Iran over the recent presidential elections, where hard-line incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad claimed a 68% victory over former prime minister Mir Hossain Mousavi, bucking recent polls showing Mousavi ahead.  Protests–in open defiance of the authorities–continue unabated in cities across the country.  Allegations of election fraud run rampant.  The Guardian Council, the clerics that must approve of the election results, are even okaying the recount of ballots at selected poll sites.

What makes this election more remarkable is that for possibly the first time, the mullahs must publicly pay lip service to popular dissent.  This doesn’t mean there weren’t opposition movements before–the Khatami era of the 1990s comes to mind–yet those were mostly college kids.  Give them free food and a Hacky Sack and all opposition is suppressed.  Today’s opposition is made up of rank-and-file middle class Iranians: the same middle class that was crucial to the 1979 revolution that placed the mullahs in power in the first place. 

Sally Buzbee’s article for the Associated Press highlights some of the scenarios that may happen, especially the fate of the Islamic regime.  While I don’t think the Islamic republic will tumble any time soon, this kind of open defiance, even in the face of government censure, must really put the clerics on edge.

Why, you may ask?  A little history is in order…we are devoted to history at the Neighborhood, after all.

In 1979, a coalition of radical leftists, trade unions, Communists, and Islamic fundamentalists succeeded in overthrowing the Shah, the autocratic, yet pro-Western, monarch of Iran.  The shah, to be fair, was a prick of the worst order.  His Savak, or secret police, committed atrocities that make the Gestapo look like traffic cops.  He squashed all opposition to his rule, while plundering the wealth of the country for his lavish–and tasteless–lifestyle.  It’s the same charge leveled at Saddam: is it some sort of requirement that Middle Eastern autocrats have to decorate their palaces like Tony Montana’s country home in Boca Raton?

Anyway, the coalition managed to get rid of the Shah.  Great, now what?  The Communists and trade unions didn’t have much of an answer, especially since their comrades up in Moscow were kind of busy in a little burg called Afghanistan.  The clerics, unfortunately, did–a return to normalcy and stability.  It’s ideas most people weary of turmoil and unrest would find refreshing and comforting.  The rural poor yearned for a return to the rhythms of their daily lives, while urban voters in Tehran and elsewhere just wanted to go back to work.

What no one told the people was that normalcy and stability meant to the year 1300 under a strict–and not entirely accurate–interpretation of Islamic law.  The fundamentalists gain power in a national referendum with an overwhelming majority based on their stability message.  The Communists and trade unions were sidelined and persecuted, regardless of their role in the revolution.  It’s probably one of the few times I feel bad for Communists, but they deserve sympathy.  They’re usually the ones that throw coalition partners under a bus, so it hardly seems fair.   

Thus is established the Islamic “Republic” of Iran–a democracy in theory, a republic in form and function, but a theocracy in reality.  Even though there are elections, elected officials and a parliamentary process for legislation, the clerics have all real power.  They approve the candidates, set the agenda, approve the laws, okay election results and basically use the elected legislature as a puppet for their program–a country under Islamic law.

The mullahs keep strict control over almost all aspects of everyday life.  Most Western products, media and ideas are banned.  Islamic dress codes and social morays are tightly watched.  Women, religious minorities, atheists, dissenters and non-heterosexuals have none of the freedoms we enjoy. Religious police and paramilitary thugs maintain a terroristic iron fist over Iranian life.  Public floggings are commonplace.  Capital punishment is used often, especially stoning for women.

Thirty years have passed, and Iran has seen a lot.  It has been through international isolation led by the United States.  It suffered a nearly-decade long war with Iraq.  It has been instrumental in Islamic uprisings in Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf States, Egypt, and in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.  Yet it has rarely seen a crisis like the one unfolding now.

In many respects, the clerics should have seen this coming.  While they sat on their omnipotent thrones over their utopian Islamic state, Iranians have connected to the world via technology–in spite of official censorship.  After years of sham elections, Iranians have longed for a transparency that was impossible in a place where the clergy ruled by fiat.  Even without the loudmouth Ahmedinejad, the people would have eventually reacted to a ruling class that has gotten too remote from the realities of everyday life. 

There is also demographics to consider: Iran is getting younger and younger.  Most Iranians between 21-40 have little, if any, primary knowledge of the Islamic Revolution.  They have no concept of the “bad old days” of the Shah.  They’re probably not listening to you if you tried to tell them–those earbuds on that IPod really blot out that sound, don’t they?  Stability and normalcy are their everyday life, and they are also aware of the rest.  That “rest” is the corruption of the elites, the sham elections, and the lack of real progress in the Islamic Republic.

I think that after the protests and anger subsides,  Ahmedinejad will stay in power but under a tight leash.  The clerics will have no choice.  Suppressing any dissent in the age of viral video and streaming media mean that the world will be watching.  On the other hand, they have to save some sort of face, since Ahmedinejad was considered their guy.  To preserve the power of the clerics, they must be pro-active and either remove or harness Ahmedinejad until the Guardian Council can plan their next move.

What the mullahs don’t want is the logical next step.  When the ire of the people moves from the puppets of the clerics to the clerics themselves–and it will happen, eventually–the clerics had better invest in slacks.

And start running for their lives.

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