Thursday, January 27, 2011

Voter ID

The new Republican legislature in Raleigh seems anxious to implement photo ID for voters. Since Pamlico County has had only one case in the past five years of attempted fraudulent voting (an unsuccessful attempt by a journalist seeking a story), I put this in the category of a solution in search of a problem.

We may have a few challenges with voting procedures, but fraudulent voting isn't one of them.

This proposed solution to a nonexistent problem will also be costly to implement. And with the best intentions, such a system will inevitably discourage some eligible voters to participate.

I want to share the below article by Kris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies:

SPECIAL REPORT - Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

By Chris Kromm

In 2010, Republicans campaigned on the issues of jobs, taxes and the economy -- and with states still reeling from scarce jobs and tight budgets, GOP leaders have pledged to keep that focus.

In North Carolina, incoming House Speaker Rep. Thom Tillis (R) opened the 2011 session this week by putting wrist-bands on the desks of every house member that said "Think Jobs" -- the same ones he gave to GOP candidates last fall, with instructions to snap them if they ever wandered off-message.

But as state legislatures have opened for business over the last week, GOP lawmakers have begun not by pushing bills focused on jobs, but for measures that would require citizens to show photo identification while voting -- laws which, among other controversial features, will end up costing states tens of millions of dollars to implement.

GOP leaders have introduced voter ID bills or plan to in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. In Texas -- which faces a budget shortfall of over $10 billion -- Gov. Rick Perry (R) went so far as to declare voter ID a legislative "emergency" to fast-track the bill.

All the bills have sparked controversy. For one, there's scant evidence that voter impersonation at the polls -- the one kind of fraud that ID laws address -- is a big problem. The bills are also viewed by Democrats and voting rights advocates as deeply partisan, given studies that show the elderly, African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and other constituencies are most likely to not have the needed ID cards.

But at a time when states face staggering budget shortfalls, the biggest problem facing voter ID bills may be that states simply can't afford them.

An effective, full-scale voter ID program can easily end up costing state taxpayers $20 million or more -- the three-year price tag officials estimated in 2010 for a program in Missouri. For most states, such a costly program would be a suspect luxury in ordinary times; it's nearly impossible to justify in in today's economic crisis.

Among the costs that cash-strapped states face from voter ID laws:

* VOTER EDUCATION: State officials agree that voter ID laws require major publicity and education efforts to avoid voter confusion and make sure legitimate voters aren't turned away at the polls. In 2010, Missouri estimated it would cost $16.9 million [pdf] for TV, radio and newspaper announcements and other outreach to the state's 4 million voters.

* WHO PAYS FOR I.D.? Studies show that up to 11% of citizens don't have a photo ID. Forcing voters to buy cards has made states the target of lawsuits claiming such costs amount to a modern-day poll tax. To solve the problem, many states now issue free ID cards, but it's expensive: In 2009, Wisconsin (3.5 million voters) projected a total $2.4 million cost [pdf]; Missouri estimated $3.4 million [pdf].

* IMPLEMENTING VOTER ID: Voter ID laws generate dozens of new costs for state and local officials: accommodating longer lines at DMV offices, updating forms and websites, hiring and training staff to handle provisional ballots for those who don't have ID on Election Day. In 2009, Maryland estimated it would cost one county over $95,000 a year [pdf] just to hire and train precinct judges to examine IDs of voters. With local governments already cutting programs and staff to the bone, states will likely need to appropriate millions of dollars each year to help cover these new expenses.

While high, these figures may not even fully capture the full costs of a voter ID program. For years, state leaders have been hiding or low-balling the budget impacts of voter ID measures, presumably to help get them passed amidst bitter partisan controversy.

A Facing South analysis of the fiscal notes, or cost estimates lawmakers are required to submit with proposed bills, in five states* finds that lawmakers routinely failed to budget for essential elements of carrying out a voter ID law, including informing voters, administrative costs, hiring and training staff and other necessary expenses.

In other cases, state budget estimates have noted the expenses, but blithely said they would be "absorbed" by existing state and local agencies. When Georgia signed its amended ID bill into law in 2006, lawmakers infamously didn't even include a fiscal note [pdf] with the bill, even though the state admitted counties would need at least $1 million for equipment alone. In 2009, Texas officials similarly tried to side-step the costs, making the astonishing claim that their program would have "no significant fiscal implication to the State."

Such budgetary sleights-of-hand may have worked in the past, but they're unlikely to be accepted by officials today as they are asked to slash budgets and lay off core staff at every level of government.

In short, the more honest state officials are about what's needed to implement a voter ID program -- and the less they try to push those costs off onto already-struggling agencies -- the higher the price tag.

Given the much bigger problems facing states today, is the GOP's voter ID crusade really something they can afford?

* Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union

During the President's State of the Union address last night, I was struck by the following passage:

"Thirty years ago, we couldn't know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution."

Actually, Al Gore did.

Here is how Wikipedia summarizes Al Gore's efforts in support of modern technology:

"Gore was one of the Atari Democrats who were given this name due to their "passion for technological issues, from biomedical research and genetic engineering to the environmental impact of the "greenhouse effect." On March 19, 1979 he became the first member of Congress to appear on C-SPAN. During this time, Gore co-chaired the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future with Newt Gingrich. In addition, he has been described as having been a "genuine nerd, with a geek reputation running back to his days as a futurist Atari Democrat in the House. Before computers were comprehensible, let alone sexy, the poker-faced Gore struggled to explain artificial intelligence and fiber-optic networks to sleepy colleagues." Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn noted that, "as far back as the 1970s, Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship [...] the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication.

24 Jun 1986: Albert Gore introduce S 2594 Supercomputer Network Study Act of 1986.[51] As another example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises."

As a Senator, Gore began to craft the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 (commonly referred to as "The Gore Bill") after hearing the 1988 report Toward a National Research Network submitted to Congress by a group chaired by UCLA professor of computer science, Leonard Kleinrock, one of the central creators of the ARPANET (the ARPANET, first deployed by Kleinrock and others in 1969, is the predecessor of the Internet). The bill was passed on December 9, 1991 and led to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) which Gore referred to as the "information superhighway."

The truth is, without Al Gore's efforts, it is possible that the Arpanet, the Defense Department Project that became the Internet, would never have been opened to commercial use.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Second Amendment: What Was It Really About?

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

The legend is that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution granted individuals the right to own firearms. In fact: that wasn't the issue at all; the right was a collective one, not an individual one, and it is best understood as the "Anti Redcoat Amendment," though no one called it that. It is worth remembering that the Constitution was drafted a mere dozen years after British Army regulars marched on Lexington and Concord to take custody of or destroy the powder, cannon and other military supplies of the well-organized and trained New England militia.

For the past weeks, the nation has been enthralled by the dramatic events in Tucson - the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords, the killing of bystanders, including a federal judge and a nine-year old girl, and the question of what to do to prevent future incidents.

The almost universal observation by commentators is that we can't regulate guns because of the Second Amendment. Politicians compete to express the strongest support for "our Second Amendment rights."

In two recent 5-4 Supreme Court decisions, the Court determined that the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms" is a personal right.

So what was the "original intent" of the Second Amendment?

A good place to look might be the North Carolina ratification resolution. A North Carolina convention met from July 21st to August 4th 1788 and adjourned without either ratifying or rejecting the proposed Constitution. After ten other states ratified, the convention reconvened November 21st, 1789 and ratified. The convention appended to the resolution of ratification twenty declarations of rights and twenty-six proposed amendments. Several paragraphs of the declaration of rights as well as proposed amendments addressed issues later incorporated in the Second Amendment. These paragraphs make the original intent perfectly clear:


"17th. That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by the civil power.

[This passage, drafted by delegates opposed to the draft Constitution, makes it perfectly clear that the passage on bearing arms reflects opposition to and suspicion of a standing army.]

18th. That no soldier in time of peace ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war in such manner only as the Laws direct.

19th. That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead.

[This curious declaration makes it clear that "bearing arms" is something soldiers do. Otherwise, why call attention to those "religiously scrupulous" of bearing arms and make provision for such persons to pay for others to "bear arms" in their stead?]


"IX. That no standing army or regular troops shall be raised or kept up in time of peace, without the consent of two thirds of the members present in both houses.

[Another clear indication of opposition to standing armies in time of peace, unless the need was so obvious that it was supported by a super majority of both houses of Congress.]

X. That no soldier shall be enlisted for any longer term than four years, except in time of war, and then for no longer term than the continuance of the war.

[Another provision intended to limit the ability to form standing armies except in wartime.]

"XI. That each state, respectively, shall have the power to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining its own militia whensoever Congress shall omit or neglect to provide for the same. That the militia shall not be subject to martial law, except when in actual service in time of war, invasion or rebellion: And when not in the actual service of the United States, shall be subject only to such fines, penalties, and punishments as shall be directed or inflicted by the laws of its own state.

[Intended to limit federal power over state militias.]

"XII. That Congress shall not declare any state to be in rebellion without the consent of at least two-thirds of all the members present of both houses. "

[Now we get to the point of all the provisions concerning the bearing of arms: give "the people" the right and powers to rebel against a repressive federal power. Presumably a rebellion supported by at least a third of of the members of both houses of Congress would thereby become legitimate.]

It is very instructive to read the North Carolina debates over ratification of the Constitution.

The most vehement opponent of ratification was Delegate Lenoir. He voiced his darkest suspicions that the proposed government might become oppressive, emphasizing opposition to a standing army in time of peace and postulating the need for a militia to defend the people against a repressive government.

Federalists countered, arguing in favor of a standing army, asserting "We must [either] trust our friends or trust our enemies."

Delegate Lenoir:

"A constitution ought to be understood by every one. The most humble and trifling characters in the country have a right to know what foundation they stand upon. I confess I do not see the end of the powers here proposed, nor the reasons for granting them. The principal end of a constitution is to set forth what must be given up for the community at large, and to secure those rights which ought never to be infringed. The proposed plan secures no right; or, if it does, it is in so vague and undeterminate a manner, that we do not understand it.

"My constituents instructed me to oppose the adoption of this Constitution. The principal reasons are as follow: The right of representation is not fairly and explicitly preserved to the people, it being easy to evade that privilege as provided in this system, and the terms of election being too long. If our General Assembly be corrupt, at the end of the year we can make new men of them by sending others in their stead. It is not so here. If there be any reason to think that human nature is corrupt, and that there is a disposition in men to aspire to power, they may embrace an opportunity, during their long continuance in office, by means of their powers, to take away the rights of the people. The senators are chosen for six years, and two thirds of them, with the President, have most extensive powers. They may enter into a dangerous combination. And they may be continually reƫlected. The President may be as good a man as any in existence, but he is but a man. He may be corrupt. He has an opportunity of forming plans dangerous to the community at large.

"I shall not enter into the minutiƦ of this system, but I conceive, whatever may have, been the intention of its framers, that it leads to a most dangerous aristocracy. It appears to me that, instead of securing the sovereignty of the states, it is calculated to melt them down into one solid empire. If the citizens of this state like a consolidated government, I hope they will have virtue enough to secure their rights.

"I am sorry to make use of the expression, but it appears to me to be a scheme to reduce this government to an aristocracy. It guaranties a republican form of government to the states; when all these powers are in Congress, it will only be a form. It will be past recovery, when Congress has the power of the purse and the sword. The power of the sword is in explicit terms given to it.

"The power of direct taxation gives the purse. They may prohibit the trial by jury, which is a most sacred and valuable right. There is nothing contained in this Constitution to bar them from it. The federal courts have also appellate cognizance of law and fact; the sole cause of which is to deprive the people of that trial, which it is optional in them to grant or not. We find no provision against infringement on the rights of conscience. Ecclesiastical courts may be established which will be destructive to our citizens. They may make any establishment they think proper. They have also an exclusive legislation in their ten miles square, to which may be added their power over the militia, who may be carried thither and kept there for life. Should any one grumble at their acts, he would be deemed a traitor, and perhaps taken up and carried to the exclusive legislation, and there tried without a jury. We are told there is no cause to fear. When we consider the great powers of Congress, there is great cause of alarm. They can disarm the militia. If they were armed, they would be a resource against great oppressions. The laws of a great empire are difficult to be executed. If the laws of the Union were oppressive, they could not carry them into effect, if the people were possessed of proper means of defence."

Ratification Temporarily Blocked

Delegate Lenoir and his fellow Anti Federalists succeeded in blocking ratification by North Carolina in 1788. By 1789, however, ten other states had ratified. North Carolina reconvened the Constitutional Convention for a short session and passed the following resolution:


Whereas The General Convention which met in Philadelphia in Pursuance of a recommendation of Congress, did recommend to the Citizens of the United States a Constitution or form of Government in the following words Vizt.

Resolved, that this Convention in behalf of the freemen, citizens and inhabitants of the State of North Carolina, do adopt and ratify the said Constitution and form of Government. Done in Convention this 21 day of November 1789.

SAM JOHNSTON, President of the Convention

J HUNT Secretaries


Friday, January 14, 2011

FDR's Children

I had the good fortune to be born into FDR's America.

It was a time of depression - the year I was born was the beginning of the second dip - but it was also a time that working people pulled together. If a family had a roof over their heads, that roof was available to anyone else in the family, and also friends. "Just make me a pallett on the floor" was more than just a line from a song. It was the way people lived.

If someone had a plot of land, he shared the produce with others. We helped each other at harvest time. If your field caught fire, all the neighbors came with wet gunny sacks to beat it out. If the school gym needed a new floor, we all worked together to install it.

People who needed a ride just stuck out a thumb. Often as not, a complete stranger offered a ride.

It isn't that we were naive. We knew the world was a dangerous place. But we didn't let ourselves be intimidated.

At Sunday School and in church, ministers and leaders of all kinds emphasized a Christianity dedicated to helping others. Even the "hard shell Baptist" church in my rural Oklahoma community focused on the parable of the prodigal son, the Sermon on the Mount, the sayings of Jesus calling for the abandonment rather than the pursuit of wealth. Such passages were often quoted, and incorporated into the religious and public morality usually referred to as the "social gospel."

In the past half-century, though, something has happened both to religious and public morality. The acrimony in political and other public discourse has taken a vicious turn. Can't we just get along?

Maybe not.

At least we need to have a clear understanding of what the struggle is about and what is at stake. In today's New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman attributes the acrimony to the struggle between two moralities.

If Krugman is right, we are not faced just with a lack of politeness. This isn't just a "family squabble." It is a struggle over who we are.

Those of us who remember FDR were born into a world where adults worked together to alleviate suffering, to defeat fascism, and to build a prosperous future free of fear and want. Those of us born during FDR's twelve years in office never had a war of our own. WWII and Korea belonged to our fathers and older brothers. Vietnam belonged to our younger brothers. We imagined a world at peace, or at least free of major wars.

We need to recapture that vision.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Undead Past

"The past is never dead. It isn't even past." William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun.

I recalled Faulkner's words as I listened to commentators observing that "never before" have we had such a level of vitriol in our public discourse. Not exactly.

When H. Rap Brown observed that "violence is as American as cherry pie," he was telling the truth. The list of violent political acts is long. And there is ample evidence that vitriolic public discourse sometimes motivates individuals to violent acts.

Blogger Nate Silver in his New York Times blog "Five Thirty Eight" asserts that political assassinations are rare in this country. He arrives at his conclusion by using what I view as a very restrictive definition of assassination. His calculations are based on killings or attempted killings of elected officials.

A more complete picture should recognize that there are many targeted killings that are political in nature, though the victims were not elected officials. Can there be any doubt that James Earl Ray's killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King was an assassination and that it had a political purpose? Similarly, the 1964 murder of civil Rights workers Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney by sworn law officers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, had a political purpose.

In both cases, I don't see how the acts of the individuals who committed these crimes can be separated from the vitriolic public discourse over integration.

There are many other examples from that era.

The perpetrators of many of these murders plainly believed that they had the support of fellow citizens of their states. They understood and acted on coded messages they were receiving from public officials, political candidates and prominent citizens.

The problem of balancing protection of free speech with protection of public safety has been with us since the beginning of our republic. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. attempted to strike the right balance when he observed that the First Amendment doesn't protect the right of a person to falsely shout "fire!" in a crowded theater with the intent of inducing panic. There has been a lot of such shouting, intended to arouse fear on the part of the public, in recent years. Harold Meyerson's column in today's Washington Post provides a useful summary.

Earlier this week, The New York Times published a worthwhile discussion of related issues. Here's another thoughtful comment.

We don't know if the Tucson killer was aware of what was being said in the public arena about political controversies or whether such utterances influenced him in any way. But we know that such influences have existed in the past.

Political discourse arouses passions. The issues are often very important to individuals, groups and society as a whole. Passion is often a good thing. But we also need rational, dispassionate discourse about problems that need to be solved.

We should all avoid personal invective and demonization of our opponents.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Constitution

Fifty-seven years ago, I raised my right hand and swore to "defend the Constitution of the United States....against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

I was seventeen years old. I had actually read the Constitution before I took that oath. Not only that, when I asked my high school civics teacher, Mr. Mowery, about the Federalist Papers, he lent me his copy and I read that as well. So I already knew of many flaws in the original Constitution. I knew that the Bill of Rights, intended to correct some of the flaws, had been opposed by the Federalists.

By the time I took the oath again almost four years later, I had studied Constitutional Law and learned that it isn't enough to read the Constitution and marvel at the eloquent language. One must pore through nearly two centuries worth of opinions by the Supreme Court of the United States. What the Constitution means in a particular case may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer. Nor, often, do the justices completely agree.

The idea that our elected representatives in the U.S. Congress might be so unschooled in our Constitution that they need to have it read to them, struck me as ludicrous. Possibly harmless, but still absurd. Shouldn't they have read it before taking their oath?

I have now taken that oath, or some variation of it, nine times. I have also read more widely in American History and reflected more deeply on the strengths of the Constitution.

It seems apparent that our founding fathers were deeply divided along regional cultural lines. New England Puritans, Pennsylvania Quakers, Cavaliers of Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas and Scotch Irish of the uplands despised each other.

The Constitution was negotiated to establish rules of engagement by which to manage the inevitable conflicts of interest and attitude that the colonists had brought with them from the old country as well as some new conflicts developed here.

Key to these rules of conflict management has been the use of the ballot rather than bullets to determine policy.

It hasn't always worked that way, but it is our job to do our best to resolve conflicts peaceably, not violently.

That's what the Constitution is about.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Captain Honors

What could Captain Honors have been thinking when he produced the now notorious sex video and broadcast it to the crew of USS Enterprise during his assignment as Executive Officer of the ship?

What could the Navy have been thinking to select him subsequently as commanding officer of Enterprise?

A ship's commanding officer, executive officer and department heads are expected to provide adult supervision. This requires a certain degree of dignity and decorum, especially in public. Captain Honors fell far short of that standard. The whole episode is reminiscent of "Tail Hook."

Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, brought adult supervision to the situation by relieving Captain Honors of his command. It shouldn't have been necessary. Admiral Harvey is trained in nuclear propulsion and served on USS Enterprise as a young officer in the Rickover (no-nonsense) tradition. He also is an expert in personnel assignment policy, a former Chief of Naval Personnel, and a surface warfare officer (another no-nonsense career field).

Captain Honors crossed horns with the wrong admiral.

Monday, January 3, 2011


The New York Times is carrying a marvelous series of articles providing a day-by-day account of the events of 150 years ago leading up to the Civil War. They plan to carry us through the entire conflict.

I recommend everyone read the series as it appears. A way to make sure you get every episode, is to sign up through Facebook. Here is an internet link to the series.

One thing comes through loud and clear: the Civil War was about slavery.

In case you were wondering - my direct ancestors who bore arms during that conflict fought for the Confederacy. Some of their relatives fought for the Union.