Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Elections Have Consequences

Like much of the world I was caught flat-footed by Donald Trump's victory.  I followed the polls which were pretty much in lockstep agreement that Clinton would win.  The actual results varied quite a bit, to say the least.  Reading the summary of the Washington Post's electoral post-mortem, it is clear the the Clinton campaign made some strategic errors.  Combine that with the depressive effect of a negative campaign and deliberate voter surpression in Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin and Clinton was completely ambushed.  What bothers me most is that the Democrats did not get out their vote.  All throughout the campaign I kept hearing about the impressive GOTV effort that the Democrats had ready to go.  In the end, not so much.

The day after Election Day was a rough one as the reality of President Trump forced itself into my head constantly.  I was smart enough to go for a walk in the forest and watch the sunlight filter through the trees after a morning shower on what turned out to be a pretty fall day, even if Donald Trump was going to become the 45th President of the United States and much of what I have worked for during much of my life is at risk of dissolution under a Republican-dominated federal government.

On Satuday I attended the Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation fall workshop on movement building.  The day was a good antidote to my post-election fear and depression.  Sixty to 75 people attended and we spent the day figuring out how to network on issues that are important to us.  FOR has been around for 100 years and has a long history of organizing in support of peace and social justice.  We will certainly need a LOT of that in the next four years.  I am pleased to live in an area that has such a strong commitment to those issues.

Probably my biggest disappointment about Trump's election is that the United States will become even more of a rogue nation regarding climate change.  Unlike most of the world, the US will become even more steadfast in its commitment to fossil fuels and will blithely continue to pump greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere even as the rest of the world looks for alternatives.  We lost eight years under George W. Bush, made some tenuous and limited progress under Obama and can expect those hoped-for (because they are far from certain) gains to disappear.  In the meantime, a threat that even the Pentagon recognizes as an "immediate risk" to the nation will continue to grow.  America's legacy in the 21st century may well be the loss of the world as we have always known it.

In the 1930's the rogue nation was Germany which threatened its neighbors with its expansionist ideology.  It took World War II to end that threat.  I wonder if a world threatened with rising sea levels and  consequent massive population will find that it needs to act against this century's rogue nation.  


Monday, October 31, 2016

Back to High School and Points East

Went to my my high school Class of 1966 50th class reunion last weekend in Danville, Virginia. Had a very good time catching up with friends from those days and meeting many classmates I did not know then. Danville is always a place of mixed feelings for me but reunion certainly gave me some good memories to add to the mix.

The reunion was part of a week-long trip east that also included cycling with my brother and seeing my closest friend. Maggie and I flew into Raleigh, North Carolina and stayed with friends from my Richmond days. We had seen each other once or twice in the past 40 years but had kept in touch. We talked late into the night and for much of the next day. Long enough that Maggie and I ended up driving north out of the Raleigh-Durham area just as Friday rush hour was getting under way. Throw in a traffic-blocking accident on I-85 and we ended up reaching Danville about fifteen minutes before the reception.

My brother, Neil, and his dog, Chloe, had already arrived. It was our first time meeting the dog, a sweet beagle-whippet mix. We immediately bolted for 2 Witches Winery and Brewery for the Friday reception. That Danville has a brewery and winery is change enough to be significant but that it's name celebrates (or at least gives it a positive spin to) witchcraft is mind boggling. Walking in the door I immediately ran into a friend and the conversation began. That pretty much repeated itself throughout the evening. Fortunately, we all had stick-on name tags—recognizing each other after 50 years would have been daunting. Many names had long been out of mind but I remembered them instantly upon seeing the name tag.  Maggie brought her own name tag from a previous meeting where she was Assistant Grand Wazoo of Dot Dog Enterprises which was made for interesting conversations. The beer was good. I had a couple pints of Danville Lager but several IPAs were also on tap.

Saturday was cycling day. My brother and I cycled together in Danville in 2014 when he was here for his 50th reunion. Like then, he borrowed a bike for me but it needed some adjustment. We found a bike shop not for from our motel. The owner/mechanic had just bought the business after building (I think it was) race cars He said inventory was scarce since he was still working out the relationship with bike companies. Neil had also worked in a bike shop so a fair amount of shop talk ensued during work on the bike. The mechanic was able to adjust the dérailleur but the brakes were hydraulic disc brakes and he lacked the fluid to was unable to restore the back brake but got the front to work.

We took off down the Riverwalk Trail along the Dan River. I discovered quickly that the front brakes worked hardly at all. I could stop at slower speeds with some distance but would not be able to stop at the bottom of even a mild hill or suddenly, if necessary. I figured I could pull it off if I was careful so we followed a route that had no hills and the most minimal traffic. We crossed the river on the bike/pedestrian bridge near the Warehouse District and made our way uphill through the old neighborhoods to Danville National Cemetery where our parents are buried. We spent some time reflecting on Frank and Kay Fleming and our relatively short time together before working our way up to Main Street. We continued out West Main and into Forest Hills where I learned that I could pick up speed going downhill with my front brake fully engaged. Fortunately, no traffic was about but I decided then that lack of brakes is reason enough to end a ride and we headed back to our start. To do that, we had to descend back to the river, a dicey proposition with no brakes.

That evening Maggie and I headed to the Danville Golf Club for the the reunion event. This was a more formal affair than the previous evening. We began with a class photo which required a certain amount of “herding cats” as we assembled, first in one and then another location as the the evening twilight faded. That done, we set about eating, drinking and conversing. I listened to classmates' stories and told my own. The evening's program recognized couples married 50 years, veterans, class officers and a few faculty members from our high school years. One was Ken Miller who taught me that English literature made for good reading. As part of the veterans' recognition, a classmate killed in Vietnam was remembered. We also remembered other classmates who died. Among them was one of my first new friends in high school and the first friend to serve in Vietnam combat. He came back with problems. I don't know what happened to him but can't help but think that experience contributed to his early death.

Beyond the program was more conversation, food drink and music from the mid-60's. The environment was far more inclusive than I remember from high school. The Class of 1966 was large—461 if I remember correctly—divided by geography (north vs south Danville) and the junior high school attended. I went to the small Catholic grade school (10 in my graduating class) in south Danville but lived on the north side of the river so I had friends in both groups but never felt quite like I fit in with either. I was also shy and reclusive so I did not leave high school with fond memories of friendship, participation or achievement. None of that was evident at the reunion, though. The five decades since graduation pretty much obliterated whatever divisions I felt back in high school. We were all just old friends who shared an important time in our lives together.

Neil and I had planned to cycle on Sunday but lack of brakes killed that plan. Maggie and I met a few classmates at the hotel breakfast bar. All were among the ones I met for the first time over the weekend. We chatted with them for a while before heading out to run some errands and see the town. We mostly drove through my former North Danville neighborhood and environs. We saw a lot of older, dilapidated housing along with signs of renewal, especially in the North Danville Historic District. Walking around that area, we met the owner of a new farm-to-table restaurant that opened in the old business district there. He told us about plans for further redevelopment in th area. From what I saw it still looks like a heavy lift. Among my classmates still living in town I heard varying assessments of future success. The city is still reeling from de-industrialization that closed the large textile mill that was its economic anchor for much of the 20th Century along with other industries that located there in the late 50's and early 60's.

One thing that the city has going for it is a beautiful natural setting centered on the Dan River which bisects the city north and south. When I lived there the river was simply the “muddy Dan” and was rarely visited. Some people fished in the river but the catch was mostly catfish and some friends had a raft above the Schoolfield Dam. But the river was mostly just a barrier to cross-town travel. These days, with the mill buildings removed on the north bank, the river is flanked by a seven mile paved bicycle/pedestrian path that leads to a major recreation complex on the city's east side. The path provides access to the river that was completely lacking during my years in the city and includes a river crossing that links it to the old Warehouse district which is now being converted to residential use. It's something to build on but the city's prospects are uncertain.

Monday morning Maggie and I headed up Route 29 to to visit longtime friends Peyton and Carol Coyner in Nelson County. Route 29 is a familiar one to me—I drove it many times during college in Charlottesville. Despite its familiarity the road has changed greatly since those days. Not only is the highway a four lane divided road but bypasses now skirt the small towns and City of Lynchburg that were always bottenecks. The route follows Virginia's Piedmont region, more or less paralleling the Blue Ridge Mountains, drawing closer to them as it travels north. Fall colors were just beginning to turn; those that were out were brilliantly highlighted on this sunny day.

By the time we reached the Coyner's place in Nelson County we were well into the Blue Ridge foothills with high peaks and ridges to the west. As always, we fell into immediate conversation, catching up on news since my spring visit. Next day we drove with Peyton to Reeds Gap on the Appalachian Trail. Maggie and I hiked south up the ridge to a rock outcropping that I used to visit with my dog Toby in the late 70's and early 80's. Maggie buried a small portion of Toby's ashes there in 1989. On this trip we to buried a small portion of our Dalmatian Prince's ashes. Reeds Gap has been a spiritual center for me since the mid-70's. It's not far south of Humpback Rocks where I first discovered the Appalachian Trail and experienced a genuine environmental epiphany. It seemed like a good place for remembering another dog that has been so important in my life.

After Reeds Gap we drove to the western trailhead of the Blue Ridge Railway Trail, a rails-to-trail project that Peyton helped create. The site has a restored station—not open to the public but looking fine. Volunteers are now rebuilding a caboose on the frame of an original caboose from the railroad. We drove over to the Roseland trailhead, about two miles up the trail and walked a bit with Peyton who explained the challenges of keeping poison ivy under control. Some older vines, now cut at their base but still clinging to their tree, are as thick as a man's forearm. After dinner we watched “The Last Waltz”.

Our last full day in Virginia took us to the Nelson County Humane Society Thrift Shop and to the Almost Home Animal Shelter the society operates. Peyton is active with the society and was project manager for constructing the new shelter. He continues to haul dogs and cats as far north as Boston for adoption. The thrift shop has an extensive inventory and supports the shelter's operation. After the store we drove a few miles north on Route 29 to the shelter itself. The lobby and adjacent rooms are filled with cats. Deeper inside we can hear the dogs barking. Once inside the dog runs the cacophony is overwhelming. Maggie and I took dogs out for walks. My first dog was Tucker, a foxhound mix, I think, about 50 pounds and strong. When we were done, a volunteer had me release him into one of the outdoor pens. My second dog was Victoria, also a hound of some sort, who didn't require a leash. She got to run as much as she wanted. She was, however, fixated on the shelter because all of her runs ended at the gate leading back. Each time I would make walk away from the gate with me. When we were done, she made a beeline back to her room.

After the dogs we went back to Peyton's. I helped him stack firewood. Maggie began cleaning the glass doorway facing the trombe wall. We walked with Peyton through his nine acre woodland on a bright fall day. Fall is clearly in progress—some trees are already bare while others are just turning color and some trees still sport green leaves. Even those have a diminished appearance—not as robust as when I was here in spring.

On Thursday morning Maggie finished cleaning the trombe wall. I read my last in-hand Washington Post newspaper and loaded the car. Then we said our good-byes and headed south. After a quick side trip to Lowesville to buy locally stone-ground grits we followed Route 151 to 29 and back through Danville. We found the Raleigh-Durham Airport with the help of a kindly southern lady at the Hillsboro Visitor Center and a North Carolina highway map. Afer an hour gate delay we made it home to Olympia around 1:00 am.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Thinking Like a Grunt

The Army trained me to shoot at anything that moves.  I walked through field courses in the northwest woods where humanoid shapes would pop up from the brush and I would fire my M-16 blanks.  The training was to create a conditioned response.  In war everything is a threat and the best way to fight that threat is to fire quickly.

That attitude might seem rational in the twisted logic of war.  It has absolutely no place in civilian society.  Yet, the repeated shootings of black Americans by police makes me wonder if police now think like infantry soldiers.  Instead of a foreign enemy police see threats and react with force.  Sometimes, they cannot even say why they fired their weapons.

I understand that police often face life-threatening situations and must make spit-second decisions.  But so many of the shootings don't come close to that level of threat and might not have required lethal force.  Yes, I am second-guessing the police.  I do so because they are acting in my name and I expect them to be as well-versed in de-escalation as in the use of firearms. Fewer people are likely to end up dead.

The infantry soldier's mission is to kill.  The police officer's mission is to save lives.  The police should know the difference and be prepared to use judgment and skill before resorting to force.


This doesn't begin to address racism in policing practices.  For that I recommend the Bad Tux tutorial for police officers.

Also, I don't shoot at anything that moves these days but I am always on the look out.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dance of the Cosmos

From a December 19, 1999 journal entry written in Window Rock, Arizona:

The night sky is at once dark and bright.  The dark is the infinite black of deep space which the many stars do little to lessen.  The brightness is the near full moon of this December night.  It is a waxing, gibbous moon three days from fullness on the Winter Solstice, the last solstice of the 20th Century and also of the Second Millenium.  But cycle of the sun is independent of any human calendar.  The celestial dance of the solar system has proceded for eons and will continue untill the sun burns out, as all stars must.  The tiny fragment of time we call ours is a speck in the cosmos.

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Dance of the Cosmos

From a December 19, 1999 journal entry written in Window Rock, Arizona:

The night sky is at once dark and bright.  The dark is the infinite black of deep space which the many stars do little to lessen.  The brightness is the near full moon of this December nignt.  It is a waxing, gibbous moon three days from fullness on the Winter Solstice, the last solstice of the 20th Century and also of the Second Millenium.  But cycle of the sun is independent of any human calendar.  The celestial dance of the solar system has proceded for eons and will continue untill the sun burns out, as all stars must.  The tiny fragment of time we call ours is a speck in the cosmos.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

North Cascades Post Labor Day

[My apologies for the variable type size and spacing.  I wrote the text on word processing and copied it to Blogger which added so much HTML coding that I cannot figure out how to get it right.  I gave up after a couple of frustrating hours. I won't do copy and paste again but for now you're stuck with this.  I hope it doesn't distract too much from the story.] 

Nine years after moving to Washington I finally made it up to the North Cascades National Park. I walked through them in 2007 when I accompanied my Appalachian Trail thru-hike partners on the last couple hundred miles of their Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike and have wanted to return ever since. In years past, whenever I thought about heading up I learned that most National Forest and Park Service campgrounds closed almost immediately after Labor Day, my preferred time to for the trip. This year, however, the national park campgrounds were open through September 20. That was incentive enough to brave Seattle traffic on a sunny Wednesday.

The drive up isn't bad—just the usual I-5 traffic. Seattle is busy but the express lanes are open heading north so Maggie and I shoot through the city handily. We leave the freeway at Arlington and follow WA 530 along the Stilaguamish River through Oso and Darrington before intersecting WA 20, the North Cascades Highway, at Rockport. The day is perfect for a countryside drive as we work our way into the mountains. The sky is blue, the air is crisp, a few trees are showing a bit of color, leaves blow across the road. It's not fall yet but the season is definitely starting to turn. 

The highway follows the Skagit River into the park. We pull into the Newhalem campground and find many campsites sites open for Wednesday and Thursday nights but reserved for Friday night. We need all three nights. We find the one space that works for us and lay claim to it. We also discover that a second loop is open (according to the park website only one loop was open after Labor Day). Others are already camped there and most vacant sites have a card stating that they are open for for through Friday. We quickly spot a nice secluded site. Maggie brings the truck around and we set up camp. We learn later from a ranger that the decision to open the second loop was made only the day before.

Our site is well-removed from either neighbor with enough vegetation to block our view of them. We can see traffic on the road to the visitor center and entering the campground but none of it amounts to any intrusion. What is an intrusion is the horde of small biting insects, so small we did not notice them. We expected mosquitoes and were ready to slather on bug juice at their first sign. By the time we figure out that we were being bitten, the little buggers had exacted a toll. Even covered up and juiced up, we still get bites on our exposed hands. That aside, we enjoy a long sunset and twilight. Maggie and I walk around the campground road, checking out other campers' rigs (everything from tents and utility trailers to very high-end motor homes). We meet a few other campers and their dogs. A big near-full moon rising in the east is barely visible through the forest canopy.

Thursday morning is slow. I am up at first light watching the light push away the dark. Light comes slowly here. Our campsite is hemmed in by three steep ridges--one south and west, another to the north and east, the other east and south—so sun doesn't crest the ridge until well after sunrise. Even then we still have the shade of the thick foliage above. I can hear the quiet rush of the Skagit River not far away. I can also see and hear traffic on the road. It's not especially heavy but it is certainly noticeable given that much of it is larger trucks and utility vehicles. We make breakfast, clean up and visit with neighboring campers before hiking up to the visitor center under a warming sun. 

The trail from the campground to the visitor center climbs up a low ridge that rises from the Skagit flood plain. Most of the flood plain is overgrown with forest. It doesn't look like water has flowed this high for many a year, no doubt because of the three upstream dams that power Seattle City Light's hydroelectric generating facilities on the river. On this day the forest is lush and quiet. The climb is steady but not steep and brings us to the backside of the visitor center and its patio. Inside are displays of local geology, ecosystems, life forms and cultural influences. Lots of info on trails along the North Cascades Highway, too. We putter around taking it all in before heading back down the trail.

Just before reaching the campground we turn on to the River Loop Trail, a two mile trail along the flood plain. The forest is fairly open and sunny at first. Many trees show evidence of an earlier fire. Closer to the river, the foliage is thicker and the trail much shadier. Shafts of late afternoon sunlight punch though the canopy, dramatically contrasting with the deep green of the forest. Large, old growth western cedar and hemlock trees are still standing, their massive trunks a reminder of nature's awesome immensity. Back in camp we make dinner and clean up just before dark. Not long after we are in the truck. 


 On this night we learn just how badly we've been bitten. We both have scores of bites on our lower legs and ankles, on our forearms and hands and occasional bites elsewhere. I don't recall itching much last night but I've noticed it all day. As long as we were doing things and moving about I could ignore them somewhat. Now lying still, trying to sleep, the itching is noticeably obvious and leaves me scratching like a dog with fleas. Benadryl, cortisone cream and a topical gel offer some minimal relief but the night is a long one. At one point in between scratching, Maggie returns from the restroom to inform me that the moon is up and visible from the campground loop road. I pull myself out of the truck for the view. The moon is one day shy of new and well up in the sky. Some light clouds have moved in creating a halo around the moon giving it a subdued look although it still puts out plenty of light. 

Friday morning begins cool and clear. A bit of magic happens early. During an exchange of pleasantries about this wonderful place , another camper tells me he is heading home and asks if I want some firewood. I say yes and he says he'll drop the wood at our site on his way out.  Sweet. 

After breakfast Maggie and I drive up to the visitor center so I can imprint my journal with the park's passport stamps.  Maggie takes the opportunity to wash up using the hot water in the restroom.  Once done we head east on the North Cascades Highway.  We quickly pass through New Halem just up the road from the campground.  It's a company town built by Seattle City Light for workers at its dams and power stations upstream.  That explains all of the truck traffic I witnessed from our campsite, not to mention the power lines we followed upriver on our way here.   Still following the power lines upriver we pass the Gorge Dam, Gorge Lake, Diablo Dam and Diablo Lake.  The route snakes up a side canyon arm of Diablo Lake offering a nice view of Pryamid Mountain before returning to the Skagit River and  Ross Dam and Lake.  From here the highway follows Ruby Creek and Granite Creek to Rainy Pass.  The power lines and pylons ended at Ross Dam.  From here on it's just road and mountains.

Strictly speaking, Maggie and I ar not actually in the North Cascades National Park.  Our campsite and the highway we follow are located in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The national park is divided into north and south units flanking the recreation area.  Unlike the recreation area, the park units are roadless. Farther east, Rainy Pass, our destination for the day, is located in the Okanogan National Forest. The landscape pays little attention to these administrative boundaries. Everything wihin view is stunningly grand.


Coming up Ruby Creek we catch a view of Jack Mountain (9,066 ft) and Crater Mountain (8,128 ft). The former is a sharp ridge of silver-gray granite. The latter is lighter and more earth-toned in color and resembles its eponym.. The North Cascade Highway is an impressive piece of work. The long drill holes along some of the cuts attest to the challenge of constructing and maintaining a highway through this rugged terrain. The climb from Ross Lake to Rainy Pass seems deceivingly gentle (which is easy for me to say since Maggie is driving).

The Pacific Crest Trail crosses Route 20 at Rainy Pass. We pull into the parking area on the north side of the highway and find trail magic. A man who's been supporting his wife's PCT thru-hike is serving food and drinks to four young thru-hikers—two men, a woman and dog from Switzerland and a Czech woman—taking advantage of the hospitality. They are within a few days of finishing their hike and are excited to be nearing the end of their journey and a bit unsure what life will be like after the trail. I recall having those same thoughts and emotions during my last few days on the Appalachian Trail in 2002. I hadn't walked from Mexico when I crossed Rainy Pass in 2007 but I do remember looking forward to the end of the hike. After a while Maggie and I walk south a short distance on the PCT and also north. Nothing looks especially familiar. What I recall most are the toilets at the parking lot.



By the time we leave at least two more groups of hikers have stopped by for the trail magic. It's around five o'clock when we begin heading west back to the campground. The sky has become increasingly cloudy during the afternoon—a premonition of rain forecast for tonight and tomorrow. The drive back is as spectacular as our drive out, perhaps more so due to the low angle light that highlights the high ridges and peaks. Patches of early fall color—reds and yellows—stand out in the gathering dusk. Even the power lines and pylons glow with reflected light. Sky is getting cloudy as we make our way back down the highway.


In camp we find the promised load of firewood. We make a quick dinner and batten everything down in preparation for the expected rain. A few drops have already fallen but not enough to keep Maggie from building a fire with our unexpected trove of wood. The smoke seems to keep the biting insects away and we listen to owls calling from one to another. We can tell that one of them is moving closer to us but are startled when it hoots from just above us. The owls finally “meet” and carry on quite a conversation making sounds (cackles and caws) that I would have never expected to hear from an owl.  They come to some sort of terms and are heard from no more.

Rain begins falling after about an hour or so and we bail into the truck. The sound of rain falling on the camper shell is always a pleasant one (as long as I don't have to go out into the rain) and is a soothing accompaniment to my attempts to sleep. The itching is still pretty bothersome but tonight I took an entire benadryl, not just a half, and sleep better than last night.

By morning the rain is steady. We're heading home so we don't care too much and pack up most of our gear before exiting the camper shell. The rest is quickly moved from front seat to the back the camper and we pull our of the campground without bothering to fix breakfast. Highway 20 is misty and wet. Looking much more like fall with all of the rainWe find a restaurant in Marblemount for breakfast. By the time we finish eating, the rain has let up somewhat and is pretty much tapered off by the time we reach Sedro-Woolley. After short stop at the Park Service-National Forest visitor center there, we turn south on Route 9—we aren't ready for I-5 just yet—to McMurray. Back on the freeway we encounter traffic slowdowns in Everett and again in Seattle.  Neither are particularly bad and we make it home by dinner time.

The hot shower feels oh so good. The itching will soon dissipate and I will be left with memories of a fine time in the woods and even more desire to return.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Secret Plans, a Con Artitist and a War Criminal

Never trust a a candidate with a secret plan. Donald Trump says he has a plan to destroy ISIS but won't tell anything about it lest he tip off the enemy. Last time a candidate claimed to have a secret plan to end the war it ended with Richard Nixon killing another 25,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians. If Americans had known that Nixon's secret plan was to escalate the violence even more I'm sure that would have changed enough votes to make Hubert Humphrey president.

As in the current election, America in 1968 was faced with two flawed candidates. Both were experienced in government but Richard Nixon had a reputation for dishonesty and cold war militarism while Hubert Humphrey had spent the previous four years defending Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam. The war pretty much destroyed Humphrey's reputation as a progressive liberal. Fortunately I was too young to vote that year. I was almost 21, in my third year of college and keenly aware of the war as a draft-age male. In the end, I thought Nixon's secret plan had more credibility than Humphrey's late embrace of some anti-war policies. Nothing else seemed to matter as much. In the end a very divided nation chose Nixon.

Okay, I thought. He says he has a plan. He's known to be intelligent and experienced in foreign affairs, I'll give him a chance (or the benefit of the doubt, as Hillary Clinton would say). I figured a couple of years to wind things down would be reasonable. Aside from ending the carnage in Southeast Asia, that timetablewould eliminate the chance that I might have to go to Vietnam. By the time my student deferments ran out, the war should be over.

Except that the war did not end. Two years after Richard Nixon's inauguration, I was humping the boonies on combat patrol in the mountains of Long Khanh Province in South Vietnam.

So, yeah, color me skeptical about secret plans.

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Friday, September 02, 2016

Voter Fraud My Ass!

Growing up I remember public service announcements on television urging viewers to register and vote. The one I remember most vividly declaimed “Vote and the choice is yours. Don't vote and the choice is theirs.” A strong bold statement, to be sure but one that even before I became aware of the systematic racism of the segregated South, sounded ominously divisive. As I grew older and became aware of who “they” were I came to appreciate the protections afforded to fellow Americans who had been systematically denied the right to vote by a web of Jim Crow laws.

That's why the wave of “anti-fraud” legislation enacted by Republican states pisses me off. Not only has anyone demonstrated voting fraud that even remotely approaches a level that would warrant restricting the exercise of a fundamental right, but legislators specifically crafted provisions to target minority and working-class voters.

The most egregious example is North Carolina where the legislature took advantage of the Supreme Court's decision to gut the most effective provision of the Voting Rights Act. HB 589 enacted a raft of changes that significantly increased the barriers to African-American and other minority voting. We know that legislators specifically targeted minority voters because lawsuits against the changes have disclosed legislative requests for information about minority voting patterns before they eliminated practices that encouraged minority voting and established identification requirements that reduced minority voting. Given the absence of any real voter fraud anywhere in the US, I can't imagine that other states' motivations for enacting ant-fraud legislation are any less suspect.

Much of the restrictive voting legislation is promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which describes itself as “America's largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” I would call them and agenda-driven clearing house that produces templates for business-friendly legislation. I first heard of ALEC when I worked for the Arizona State Legislature in the 80's. Several of the more conservative legislators joined the newly-formed ALEC because they thought the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) formed in 1975 was too liberal. Given the legislation that has come out of Arizona in the past few decades I can understand why they thought so.

So in the end, anti-voting fraud legislation is an unwarranted restriction of a fundamental right fostered in the interest of a wealthy business class by a well-funded front group.

Ya gotta admire their success.

Fortunately, America still has a somewhat independent judiciary.

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