May 30, 2011


The word is rooted in the ancient Greek for stranger. Ancient man likely had good reason to suspect and fear the stranger… and the unknown in general. In modern times, considering the degree of human progress, I have to wonder why this fear remains… and why we spend so much time and energy seeking people to fear.

In 1967, in response to a simple student question about the holocaust, a California history teacher developed an experiment. Ron Jones wanted to demonstrate for his students the means dictatorship could be accomplished with the cooperation of the very people affected. Mr. Jones got much more than he expected. In a period of under two weeks, Jones demonstrated just how easy it is to turn ordinary school kids into unthinking automatons intent upon forcing all others into a particular behavior. The results of this experiment are well documented [HERE] [HERE] and [HERE]… and quite frightening.

The day following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, third grade teacher Jane Elliott of Riceville, Iowa modified a lesson intended to teach about American Indians to incorporate racism and racial hatred. Elliott’s simple exercise became known as the Brown eyes/Blue eyes experiment, and received national notoriety. See [HERE] [HERE] and [HERE]. The results were far different than anyone expected.

Elliott divided the 8-year olds, all whites, according to eye color.  She purposely heaped praise on the blue-eyed children, while being more critical of those with brown eyes.  The children with blue eyes were dubbed superior, and those with brown eyes inferior. The browns were segregated from the blues in many of the same ways blacks had historically been segregated (i.e. sitting in the back of the class, different drinking fountains, etc.) Over a period of time the blue-eyed children became bossy, arrogant and abusive to the brown-eyed subclass.

As in the Ron Jones experiment just the year before, the results were startling. In both cases it proved surprisingly simple to turn one “class” of children against another based solely upon arbitrary, cosmetic variations and bogus, pseudoscientific fabrication. Both experiments demonstrated how easily class and racial divisions are fostered in the young mind.

These experiments parallel the formation of life-long prejudices. Jane Elliott tells of how she discovered previously held biases of her all white class against American Indians (which was the reason she planned her original lesson,) as she listened to the children describe Indians as lazy and untrustworthy. She discovered that the kids had similar views of blacks and Hispanics. We see the same fears and prejudices in adults to this very day resulting in speculation that such prejudices are very easily learned at a young age… with lifelong effect.

Although prejudice is far from an American exclusive, we’ve seen far more than our fair share of violence perpetrated in the name of fear or bias. When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, early speculation caused blame to be cast upon Muslim terrorists. Even after McVeigh was identified as the bomber, the FBI arrested a homeless man by the name of Hussain Al-Hussaini, because he was alleged to have been seen with McVeigh prior to the bombing. Al-Hussaini, a Muslim, was later released without charge.

Rabid Muslim hater Pam Geller speculated at the time that McVeigh did the dastardly deed because he was a Muslim sympathizer… a charge that continues to circulate on ultra-right wing websites, in much the same way the Obama/Muslim conspiracy theories circles.

Fast forward to 2001. Two weeks following the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Mesa, Arizona gas station attendant Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death at his work. His killer was found quickly and arrested. In explanation he claimed to be exacting revenge for the 9/11 attacks. As he was being arrested, the murderer shouted out, "I stand for America all the way." Sodhi was of the Sikh culture… wore a turban and was of south Asian ancestry. He was not Muslim…. But he was different. Sodhi was the first… but not the only victim of post-9/11 hate and hysteria.

Xenophobic fear, hatred and ignorance resulted in his death. Sodhi was every bit as much a victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as any of the 3,000 who died in the Trade Centers … the Pentagon… or on United flight 93, yet Arizona legislators introduced and passed a bill that would eliminate Sodhi’s name from a planned 9/11 memorial for the state. To her credit, AZ Governor Brewer vetoed that bill.

Memorial designer Matthew Salenger said, "I think we overestimated how much respect people would have for each other and their views." Deluxe understatement.

The focus of American xenophobia has changed over the years. At one time or another we’ve targeted Catholics, the Irish, Italians, Chinese, American Indians, blacks, Japanese, the French, Hispanics… and others I can’t think of at the moment. Now the Muslims have become our fear du jour.

Humans strive mightily to divide the world into a competition between "us" and "them." We do this so quickly and so easily that the drive to do so must come from some deep-seated, innate need to fear. Humans have evolved into a higher level than our tree-dwelling ancestors, yet we still possess the innate fear of falling from those trees and becoming easy prey. This need to be afraid of something seems to have survived our evolutionary progress.

Humans may rationally understand that not all of any particular sub-set of society is evil simply because of the behavior of a minority of that sub-set, but we seem to resist translating that rationality into reality.

Must it remain this way? Just as we have evolved to overcome so many other challenges to our progress, we certainly can do the same with xenophobia.  The amount of human resource and energy required to hate is simply too costly.

We can do better… and we must.


May 29, 2011

Call me Chicken Little, but...

This is a lesser of evils situation.

We need to wake up and smell the coffee. Democrats suck, but if you want to turn the U.S.A. into a Christian version of Saudi Arabia... keep voting Republican. 

Jason Childs is the founder of the Center for Progress in Alabama... and a “Liberty University-trained evangelical pastor.” He has since come to his senses and is telling us what he discovered... and exactly why we should be very afraid.

"… It is so sad that as the people of the world are fighting for freedom, we here in the United States are going in the opposite direction. The far right, under the control of fundamentalists, is declaring an all-out war on human progress."

Eisenhower tried to warn us... but we ignored him. The GOP abandoned a fiscally conservative philosophy in favor of the religious, socially conservative philosophy espoused by the right before Nixon was elected. It was a matter of expedience. The GOP needed the money and the votes... so they made a pact with the devil. Now the fiscal conservative rant is for show, with the real goal being the christification of America. 

The Christian extremist element has been infiltrating our government for many years... long before Eisenhower made that fateful speech as he was leaving office. Nixon was his Vice-President, but Eisenhower would not endorse him in his Presidential bid. Eisenhower recognized from whence the money supporting Nixon came. Nixon lost... Kennedy became President... putting a chink in the conspiracy. It also put into motion a long succession of too-far left politicians. The reaction took time, but the right came back with the religionists even more firmly in control.

The drive to make this land a Christian theocracy has never ceased.  Early evidence is found in the change to coinage design in 1864, when "In God We Trust" was first added. A more recent, major intrusion of Christianity into public life occurred in 1954 with the change in our Pledge of Allegiance... adding "under God" to  Francis Bellamy's original offering. They are persistent.

We turn our back on seemingly minor violations of our Constitution, but these are part and parcel of an overall conspiracy to turn this country more toward authoritarian theocracy and further from the intent of our Founders. If "we the people" do not wake up and it goes far enough... we may have to kiss our Constitution bye bye. 

Each time you hear me criticise Palin, or Huckabee, or Bachmann, it is because their origin and their paths are so clear. George W. Bush answered to "a higher authority." Romney is subtly attacked for being Mormon... something the Religious Right knows would be less than ideal. They want a Bible-wielding crusader.

The Republican party is infested with this conspiracy. All of the major Republican candidates except perhaps Romney are fully owned subsidiaries of the conspiracy, and it is a conspiracy blessed by god. The Religious Right are slick salesmen, and those of this country feeling a need for something in which to believe are swallowing the bait hook, line and sinker.

Mr. Childs has recent, first-hand experience with the conspirators and their goals. Read Jason's story HERE.

The left wingnuts of the Democrats (tree huggers, gun grabbers, etc.) are dangerous in their own way, but our Constitution does not face near the threat from that side of the spectrum as from the Religious Right. The left is disorganized... factionalized... the right is not, and they are winning the battle because they have won the Bible-thumping hearts of the majority.

The radical left is not the answer. A centrist left with a focus on fiscal conservatism is required, and it would not be all that difficult to move the left closer to the center. I urge you to join the D's and work for that goal. It may not be palatable for you... it wasn't for me... but it is necessary. The specter of Christian theocracy in this country is a far greater threat to the dream of our Founders than the loony-tune left has ever offered.

Lets move the left to the right, and try to save this country's greatness.


Sunday Funnies... with respect

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Never forget...

May 24, 2011

Says it all

This is one of my infrequent EMS related blogs. The video says it all, and mostly relates to my home state. 

Forgive the requisite commercial at the front of the piece.

One fact omitted from the story would rebut the misleading thread heard throughout the story... that HEMS only responds when called. On the face of it that is a true statement, but nothing is said of the perks and baubles doled out to ground providers for loyalty to and frequent calling of the air provider. Additionally there are air providers owned by the same corporation as owns the sole ground provider.


This is for Bob


Although there has been a persistent din alleging wide-spread voter fraud for many years, the most recent rendition has roots in the election meltdown of 2000 and the subsequent 2004 train wreck. You would  have though those two debacles would prompt real efforts toward reform of the election laws… clarifying all of the diverse uncertainties and inequities.

Seems to me that it would have been in the best interest of everyone for the states to hammer out some clear, concise and fair laws ensuring that we wouldn’t ever see another election by SCOTUS. Didn’t happen. 2008 has come and gone and we now find election reform mired in partisan politics. Instead of correcting anything we have a bigger mess now than ever before.

The lawyers are happy, because the current slate of proposed law changes actually increase the odds of litigation and repeat meltdowns. Case in point: voter-identification laws.

Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have proffered a plethora of such bills. From the rhetoric you'd think that voter fraud was rampant and elections being stolen on a daily basis. Instead of true election reform, the states of Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina and South Dakota have passed some form of photo identification law. 18 other states have either proposed such a law or have current non-photo requirements. Georgia has twice passed such a law, and twice it has been knocked down under Section V of the Voting Rights Act. South Carolina’s in likely next, and the Justice Department has several of the others under review.

Republicans cite copious anecdotal evidence of fraud to defend these efforts but offer no hard evidence. Democrats and civil rights organizations view the laws as the right wing seeking partisan advantage; claiming that because the mostly Democrat voting poor have a more difficult time securing voter identification, such laws would suppress participation. The poor tend not to own cars, meaning they might not have a driver's license, and they may not have the means or money to secure certified copies of documents, such as the birth certificates necessary to obtain state-issued photo ID.

So far it has failed to become clear to me exactly what the nonpartisan object of all this might be. Beyond the precious few isolated cases of identified fraud (almost none of which would have been preventable by any of the ID laws,) and of course the pundit’s anecdotes, there simply is no evidence of the kind of voter fraud a voter ID requirement would have detered. Are there studies of which I am unaware revealing evidence of voters casting ballots under false names?

I don’t think so, and I have looked. What the Republicans do have is ACORN… to which I say “Smoke and Mirrors.”

In October of 2008 the New York Post ran a story by Jean MacIntosh, titled “How ACORN got me into vote scam”. This is the story that started the wildfire that eventually spelled the demise of ACORN… starting all the wild rhetoric of rampant voter fraud.

But there was no vote fraud… at least not that could be identified by the dozens of investigations that followed. What was identified was voter registration fraud; a very different animal. Vote fraud is a serious federal felony. An example of vote fraud would be someone casting absentee votes for the entire population of the local cemetery… or some election official stuffing a ballot box. Voter ID wouldn’t have stopped either.

Registration fraud is a misdemeanor and happens when someone places fictitious names on registration forms, or the same person registers multiple times. It results in inflated voter rolls, which is a serious problem, but there is no evidence that fictitious registrations produced fraudulent votes. The Post story didn’t even allege this.

ACORN, however, was quite guilty of this… it was likely intentional… and it is a serious problem. It resulted from paying by the name for “bounty hunters” to register as many people they could. These individuals falsified lots of registrations, and were encouraged to do so. However heinous the practice, come Election Day it failed to produce fraudulent votes. These “ghost” voters invariably neglected to show up at the polls.

Thus state laws requiring voter-ID do not deter voter fraud in any of the ways proponents claim. We have documented evidence of people voting in two or more states, but voter identification is not checked across states. Absentee ballot fraud is also well documented, but the voter ID laws do not require proof of identity when casting an absentee ballot, either. So all these laws are doing is stroking the partisan base while increasing docket loads at various courts. Lawyers are grinning all the way to the bank.

Georgia’s partisan-based attempts are a good example of the cost of these laws.  Republicans there carried an ID bill into law in spite of the ruckus created by Democrat opponents. Georgia is under Section V of the Voting Rights Act, which means they had to apply for approval from the Justice Department before the law could go into effect. The requirement was to prove that the law would have no discriminatory effect on minority voters.

Tenured, non-partisan, career lawyers at the DOJ found that Georgia offered no proof of a problem with fraud, and further ruled that the ID law was indeed discriminatory. Their recommendation that the law not be approved was overruled by Bush Administration political appointees in DOJ management. Someone leaked internal DOJ memos to the Washington Post and the excrement hit the fan.

Opponents challenged the law and the federal district courts enjoined the law… ruling that the cost of the identification made the requirement a de facto poll tax. The court agreed with the DOJ careerists that there was no evidence of voter fraud, except in the area of absentee ballots, which was an area where the law actually made no-ID voting easier.

Georgia Republicans retaliated by passing a revised law, supposedly easing the difficulties for the poor to obtain an ID. The DOJ and the courts again ruled the law to be discriminatory. A lot of lawyers made a lot of money in court actions financed by the taxpayers… to the benefit of noone.

The partisan efforts solve no problems and in fact exacerbate existing tensions, but does this mean that all voter-identification laws are bad? Not necessarily, and especially if such laws could be incorporated into an omnibus, bipartisan election reform package. We should consider such revisions as federal voter registration and government issued national voter ID cards. We need to study ways to eliminate absentee vote fraud… all the while ensuring that people voting absentee are guaranteed to be counted.

What we have now is partisan hypocrisy on both sides. Flip this argument with the gun control debates. With the voter ID argument the right is claiming the law to be necessary for preventative measures. With gun control the left uses the same argument. In gun control to positions flip… with the left claiming a need for prevention and the right resisting. There is no evidence that preventative measures are needed in either instance… or that such measures provide any real results.

Nothing is going to change, however, until both sides get serious about improving our society and cease being so foolishly concerned with partisan one-upsmanship. We are a long way from that.


For a little light reading disproving the validity of state voter ID laws, may I suggest the following studies:

Overton, Spencer, Voter Identification. Michigan Law Review, 2006; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 210; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 210.

Lott, John R., Evidence of Voter Fraud and the Impact that Regulations to Reduce Fraud have on Voter Participation Rates (August 18, 2006).

Alvarez, R. Michael Michael, Bailey, Delia and Katz, Jonathan N., The Effect of Voter Identification Laws on Turnout (January 1, 2008). California Institute of Technology Social Science Working Paper No. 1267R.

May 23, 2011

A rose by any other name...

... may still smell as sweet, but lying politicians still stink. This is just more of the same Washington politics usual...


May 22, 2011

Sunday Funnies