succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Things I learned today

Attended the Martin Luther King Community Service Awards this afternoon. The keynote address was by Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, Jr., who spoke in reference to King's last book, Where Do We Go from Here?: Chaos or Community? He referenced a 'thought exercise' available on the internet:

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following:

There would be:

  • 57 Asians
  • 21 Europeans
  • 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
  • 8 Africans

  • 52 would be female
  • 48 would be male

  • 70 would be nonwhite
  • 30 would be white

  • 70 would be non-Christian
  • 30 would be Christian

  • 89 would be heterosexual
  • 11 would be homosexual

  • 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the U.S.A.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing
  • 70 would be unable to read
  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition
  • 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
  • 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
  • 1 would own a computer

  • He then segued into his favorite quote from MLK:

    All people are interdependent…(W)hether we realize it or not, each of us lives eternally “in the red”. We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge which is provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a European. Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to more than half of the world… All life is interrelated. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

    He spoke of how those whom King referred to as 'transformed nonconformists' were the ones who inevitably enacted change; how we all have to be transformed nonconformists, how "[t]he hope of a secure and liveable world lies with the disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood."

    The first award recipient was Samuel T. Jackson, from The Economic Empowerment Initiative, Inc., a non-profit that provides financial literacy training. Jackson pointed out that the average college student graduates with over $20,000 in student loans and credit card debt. He asked, education may be a key that unlocks many doors, but what good does it do if you graduate without the skills to pay off your debt, avoid further credit card debt, and save and invest for the future? Most interestingly, graduates of the program are required to donate at least 10% of their total savings to a favorite charity and teach at least 50 hours of the financial literacy seminars to fellow students in local high schools.

    Voices of Inner Strength provided the musical intermission. And I'm never quite sure how to say this, always feel like I'm tiptoeing right on the edge of racism, but here goes - black people just have more fun worshipping. As Voices of Inner Strength got going there was a "go on girl!" from the crowd and several uh-huhs and amens and finally, "bring some church up in here!" I know I never enjoy church that much, and frankly, it's been a long time since I was that moved by much of anything religious.

    Another award recipient, Kimball Williams, used to be homeless. While still sleeping on benches in downtown Atlanta she volunteered at the Children's Shelter and Grady Memorial Hospital.

    All in all, a most inspiring afternoon.

    Followed by excellent conversation with a friend I see all too infrequently. So I leave you with a thought exercise from that conversation - freedom vs. justice. Not necessarily incompatible, nor mutally exclusive. But also certainly not the same thing. One school of philosophical thought believes that following Lincoln's presidency we moved from a period of freedom into a period of justice. Discuss.

    Are you kidding me? Did the guy on CNN seriously just imply that this new tape from (potentially) bin Laden justifies the current spying scandal? Fuck me, if they seriously get away with such an egregious violation of the constitution because of this...well, I guess I won't be surprised.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    What I learned today

    Went to an information forum regarding the latest version of Georgia's voter ID bill. Bottom line - it's still a bad idea. A quick history: last year the GA legislature passed a bill requiring a state-issued photo ID to be allowed to vote. For individuals who don't have a license or other acceptable photo ID, one could be purchased from the state for anywhere from $15 to $30. This is, you know, unconstitutional. But that didn't stop Perdue from signing it into law. The League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit and got an injunction preventing the law from being enforced during the past election. The new legislative session started up last week...and the repubs brought out a slightly modified version, SB 84.

    First, it's poorly and inconsistently written. For example, since GA Tech and GA State are state schools, a school ID from one of these colleges is sufficient ID to allow someone to vote. My school ID, from Emory, is not. Nor is an ID from Morehouse or Spelman or Agnes Scott.

    Second, there are currently 17 acceptable forms of ID for a voter to present. This bill knocks that down to 6. Admittedly, some of the currently acceptable forms seem a little lax to me too, like a utility bill. But surely there are ways to address that that are better than this.

    Third, there are currently 56 approved locations for obtaining the newly proposed voter IDs. There are 159 counties in the state of Georgia. The chances that a poor resident living in rural Georgia with shaky access to transportation can get to one of these locations is...oh, very slim. In the ruling resulting in the injunction last year the judge stated that it wasn't just the monetary fee that met the requirements of a poll tax, but also the inconvenience and extra step required of voters.

    The ACLU lawyer on the panel also pointed out that the Supreme Court has said that there cannot be a 'conclusive presumption' preventing someone from voting, and in the case of this bill, enforcing it would mean the conclusive presumption that someone without a state-issued photo ID is not who they claim to be, regardless of their ability to prove so using other methods.

    Lastly, state representative Sue Burmeister was recently quoted as saying that black people only vote when they're paid. The panel moderator this evening, who is black, said she wants either an apology or her check!

    Oh, really lastly, the thing that really sold it for me is that it just can't be convincingly argued that this bill is an honest attempt to reduce voter fraud first and foremost. That may be a secondary affect, but it's far too easy to point out disparities in the bill that will disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. And there are far too many potentially productive things that could be done that aren't. For example, Georgia keeps records of who uses what forms of ID when they vote, but throughout the past year that this bill (and it's various versions) have been pending, the legislature has made no effort to analyze that data, which would clearly enable them to not only determine which forms of IDs are used most often and by which groups, but also to link forms of ID with alleged fraud. Oh, wait, there have no documented cases of voter fraud in the state of Georgia for in-person voting. They've all been absentee. oops.

    (and yes, I posted a little while ago that this new bill seemed reasonable. I was wrong.) (See Mr. President? That's how it's done.)

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    What do you know?

    Sid, Kate, and I all blogged about Gore's speech today! Go! Read and discuss!

    "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."
    -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Gore gave one hell of a speech today.

    A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. Indeed, they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

    An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."


    In a properly functioning system, the Judicial Branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties and adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands - notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.


    The President's judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure that the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive - a supporter of the so-called unitary executive, which is more properly called the unilateral executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not - and I do not - we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

    It's this last point that I find to be the most compelling reason to be terrified of the rapidly-inevitable-seeming confirmation of Judge Alito. Yes, during his confirmation hearings he stated more than once that no man, including the president, is above the law. But if your interpretation of the law is that, legally, a president is entitled to do pretty much any damn thing he wants (a slightly loose interpretation of the unitary executive), then this statement is pretty empty. And that, more than any other specific issue on which I may hold a differing opinion, is the reason why I think Judge Alito joining the Supreme Court has the potential to be disastrous. This man will be helping to shape the interpretation of law for decades. And he is not the man America needs. If you, unlike me, have even remotely reasonable senators, try one more time to call and share your thoughts with them. U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121

    Gore also includes a particularly motivating reminder of our job as citizens:

    We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We-as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and degradation of our democracy.

    Thomas Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

    The revolutionary departure on which the idea of America was based was the audacious belief that people can govern themselves and responsibly exercise the ultimate authority in self-government. This insight proceeded inevitably from the bedrock principle articulated by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke: "All just power is derived from the consent of the governed."


    We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

    I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, "The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will."

    And again the reminder that fear is not only not the way of progress, but that an administration that rules by fear is an insult to our origins.

    As President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

    Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

    The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

    Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.


    It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.