Judging Elections

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I worked as an election judge for the first time Tuesday, and the experience opened my eyes to many issues with our current system.

First of all, election judges get minimal training and are both overworked and underpaid. We judges showed up at the polling place by 5 am and were not able to leave until after 8 pm. There was scarcely any opportunity to use the restroom or grab a bite to eat.

As the polls opened, our epollbooks, which are used to look up voters’ information, were not working. We were scrambling to post voter applications and get voters into the booths to vote before they headed to work for the day. Not having actually ever performed the task, I was uncertain exactly what to do and sometimes which form to use. This despite the fact that I had attended training and had studiously read the entire election judges manual for a couple of days before the election.

There is no boss at a polling place in Illinois. All judges have equal weight in seeing to it that voting takes place in the proper manner. But this can create confusion. One of our judges insisted upon asking people for IDs even after I told her it was not allowed in Illinois. It took a couple of poll watchers and someone from the election commission who came to our precinct to set the judge straight.

Inevitably there were issues with voters. Some had moved but not changed their address. Others were at the wrong polling place. Some voters had become inactive after not voting for a few years. Even with the opportunity to hand out provisional ballots, it took me the better part of the day to learn how to follow the proper protocols for all of these special situations and make sure everyone had the opportunity to vote.

Our election system needs an overhaul. It should be much easier and less complex to vote. In Washington State, for instance, all voting is done by mail or drop off. There is no scrambling to get to a polling place or need to stand in a long line to vote. There is no need to recruit citizens to sacrifice a long and exhausting day at the polls. Unsurprisingly, voter turnout in the state was over 50%.

Don’t get me wrong. My day as an election judge was not all bad. I enjoyed meeting my fellow judges, who hailed from all different walks of life and were eager to do their part to participate in democracy. I loved seeing the great turnout at the polling place to which I was assigned. It heartened me to see so many citizens, many of them young people, determined to cast their vote.

I would love to see Illinois and other states work to make voting more streamlined and ultimately less costly than the wieldy system we currently have. Short of that, election judges need to be paid better and required to receive more training and supervision before being allowed to work at a polling place. They should also not be required to work an entire 15- hour shift on Election Day.

Voting is one of our most cherished rights and responsibilities as Americans. Let’s make it easier to participate and encourage citizens to vote in every election. It will make our democracy more vibrant and representative of all the people.

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Trump Can’t Lead Without Moral Compass

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President Trump chose to mark the loss of 11 lives due to white nationalist terrorism by traveling to Southern Illinois for another political rally. His visit was ostensibly to campaign for other Republicans, but really it was just to talk about himself and take jabs at Democrats and Hillary Clinton. These are not the actions of a leader.

Sure, Trump made a few remarks about his supposed intolerance for anti-Semitism. But in the days since the devastating attack on Jewish members of a Pittsburgh synagogue, the President of the United States has managed to do what he does best: make it all about him. He even complained that he was probably attacked more than anyone. Gee, Mr. Trump. Is that how you plan to comfort the loved ones of the deceased?

In the past two weeks, we have seen a series of attacks on the part of disgruntled white men who love everything Donald Trump stands for. First, law enforcement officials arrested the man accused of sending pipe bombs in the mail to prominent Democrats. He was a white nationalist whose actions gelled around his support for Trump and the politics of hate. Trump used the arrest not to appeal for peace and understanding, but to call for a renewed use of the death penalty.

Now we have one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks committed on U.S. soil in decades. But far from being able to rely on our president to lead us away from such violence, we have one who calls white nationalists “fine people” and uses dog whistle politics to appeal to their racism. Besides, he has to get back to his relentless attack on the caravan of undesirables heading for the U.S. border. It’s the only way to get Republicans elected these days apparently.

That Donald Trump has no sense of decency was revealed way back in 2015 when he started to campaign for president by claiming that the current one was an African-born Muslim. Throughout the campaign, he hurled insults and slurs, fomented white rage, and even suggested he’d hit on his own daughter if they weren’t related. He bragged about paying no taxes and grabbing women’s genitalia. Did we really expect him to get in office and suddenly start acting “presidential”?

Donald Trump even mocks the notion of being presidential by imitating a robot and garnering a few laughs at his omnipresent political rallies. No, we can’t expect leadership from a man who lives in a moral vacuum. And our country is much the worse for it.

Gutter Politics

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street_gutter_by_chaos0892-d3eb8tkI understand, Senator Warren. After months of baiting by the Mocker-in-Chief, you couldn’t resist publicizing the results of a DNA test demonstrating that you do indeed have Native American ancestry. And contrary to the dismissive takes on those DNA results by conservative pundits, it’s possible that you do have a fairly close relative who was Cherokee. (“Just about everything you’ve read on the Warren DNA test is wrong,” Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2018)

Many people forget the origin of Trump’s nonstop taunting of Warren and calling her Pocahontas: failed senatorial candidate Scott Brown. During the Massachusetts campaign, Brown unearthed Warren’s listing herself as Native American in a Harvard Law School directory and started slinging mud, implying that she was using some remote claim to get into law school and get ahead. (Funny how no one brought up Brown’s questionable decision to pose nude in Cosmo during his law school days.) So it has always been Republicans who have brought up Sen. Warren’s claims to Native American heritage, not Warren herself.

Of course, Warren’s news has not helped her politically at all. Trump, of course, doubled down on the mockery. He’s not a man who would ever apologize or admit to being wrong about something. And no matter how much he lies, how big of a buffoon he acts at rallies, and whether he describes women as “horseface” or brags about grabbing them “by the pussy,” Trump’s supporters will never desert him.

The Cherokee Nation is also displeased at the implication that having some Native American DNA makes a person part of that culture. Despite the fact that Warren has never claimed tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation, they see her release of a DNA test as nothing more than a political stunt. If I were them, I’d be a little more worried about my people being disenfranchised by unprincipled Republicans, frankly. But their stance has not helped Warren politically.

Let’s face it. Republicans are really good at mud-slinging. They faced little repercussion for calling Michelle Obama the president’s “baby mama” or for fostering claims that Pres. Obama was not born in the United States. They’ve allowed Trump to call white nationalists “fine people” and to make up offensive nicknames for anyone who opposes him. Even “Little Marco” Rubio and “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz have basically taken it in the nether regions and accepted Trump’s leadership.

This is what bullies do. They don’t have true leadership qualities, so they push people around and call them names. And I do like the fact that Sen. Warren pushes back. She has relentlessly criticized this Administration for its many unprincipled actions since Trump took office and continued to crusade for fairness for the poor and middle class. She is not afraid of Trump. But in the face of his relentless taunts, she did succumb to temptation and descended into the gutter with him.

The problem with getting into the gutter is that you will get dirty – or killed.

 

 

Ignoring the Glock In the Room

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A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)
[A peek inside the gun vault of the Chicago Police Department. (Photo: Fox)]

Donald Trump and his buddy Jeff Sessions are at it again – taking aim at Chicago’s persistent problem with gun violence and coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Yesterday President Trump displayed his contempt for constitutional rights by declaring that the Chicago Police Department needs to institute a “stop and frisk” policy to stem the tide of gun homicides that has plagued the Second City for many years. Never mind that studies show such policies disproportionately target blacks and other minorities, especially in white neighborhoods. Never mind that a white Chicago police officer was just convicted of second degree murder for shooting a black suspect 16 times. The idea of giving police officers more license to confront people randomly  does not sit well with a community still reeling from the sight of that awful video and from the scandal of the city covering up that shooting.

Attorney General Sessions plans to make a statement opposing federal oversight of a sweeping police reform plan being proposed in Chicago. Sessions argues that the 2015 consent decree between the Chicago PD and the ACLU was responsible for an upsurge in homicides in 2016. The consent decree required documentation for every stop police made of a potential crime suspect.

But there is no evidence that the documentation burden on its own caused an upswing in violence. Furthermore, homicides increased in a number of U.S. cities in 2016. What is unique about Chicago is that “more homicides were committed with guns in Chicago than other cities.” (“Few answers as Chicago hit with worst violence in nearly 20 years,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 2016)

Once again, our NRA-backed leaders leave out one of the most obvious issues when it comes to violence in Chicago: the proliferation of guns in our city. A lack of federal oversight and lax gun laws in the states surrounding Illinois make it far too easy to obtain guns, whether legally or illegally. The cost of an illegal firearm goes up dramatically when strict gun laws are in place. But Illinois’ relatively strict gun laws are meaningless when a gang member can make a 30 minute drive to Indiana to obtain a weapon.

Chicagoans are tired of being singled out by New Yorker Donald Trump for the rate of violent crime in our city, which isn’t even the highest in the country, contrary to popular belief. But what is really maddening is listening to our president propose wholesale violations of citizens’ rights instead of looking at one of the real solutions: making it harder to get a gun. Until we remove the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians and policy makers, gun violence will continue to plague our country, in Chicago and across the nation.

 

 

Burden of Proof

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I’m a little tired of seeing conservatives bemoan the lack of due process in the Kavanaugh situation. Where’s the presumption of innocence, they want to know? But we’re not talking about criminal law here. No one to my knowledge has suggested arresting and trying Brett Kavanaugh in a criminal court on charges of attempted rape. Rather, Judge Kavanaugh is being scrutinized for a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the United States.

Two women have come forward to accuse Kavanaugh of sexual assault in high school and college respectively. This is not a small matter. It goes directly to the character of a proposed sitting Justice of the Supreme Court. And, if true, it indicates an attitude toward women that is incompatible with Supreme Court decisions on the myriad issues affecting women in this country.

I am not saying Judge Kavanaugh is guilty. But the allegations must be brought forward in a transparent and fair hearing by the senators who will decide whether or not to vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Unfortunately, many Republican senators have already decided that they do not believe Christine Blasey Ford. Public statements by Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell clearly indicate that they will vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation no matter what Ms. Ford or other witnesses say.

Judging from social media, conservatives have all decided that Brett Kavanaugh is a good man being wrongly smeared. How do they know? I don’t think any of my Facebook friends are personally acquainted with Judge Kavanaugh. They are simply taking the partisan line, which is unfortunately the default in this country of late.

But there are many open questions. What does the reference to “Renate Alumnius” in Kavanaugh’s yearbook mean? Is it a reference to the alleged sexual conquest of a girl named Renate he and his friends knew in high school? What about the high school buddies who tell a tale of binge drinking and partying throughout high school? And why is Mark Judge, a man Ford claims was present when Kavanaugh attacked her, in hiding? If his friend Brett Kavanaugh is such an upstanding guy and there’s no truth to Ford’s accusation, you’d think he’d be eager to come forward and testify.

These questions about a Supreme Court nominee should give the Senate Judiciary Committee pause. And it should take the time to investigate the claims of the two women who have accused Kavanaugh. But even if the allegations are true, I doubt they will stand in the way of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. After all, when Anita Hill was practically dragged into the hearings by her hair to testify to sexual harassment by then-nominee Clarence Thomas, she was not believed. Rather, Thomas played the race card, declaring the hearing to be a “high-tech lynching.” I find that detail to be a bit ironic, as it’s usually liberals being accused of playing that particular card.

Many women have regrets over sordid sexual encounters with men. They may feel shame or disgust. But sexual assault engenders something else: fear. The women who have accused Kavanaugh have expressed such fear and its disabling effect on their lives. These women at least need to be heard and truly listened to. The mostly male Senate would do well to remember that these women are someone’s daughter. How would they wish their own daughters to be treated, not just by men such as Brett Kavanaugh but by their own deliberative body?

 

Just Be It

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In our current political climate, controversies abound about displays of patriotism – or the lack thereof. Colin Kaepernick’s famous (or infamous depending upon your point of view) decision to take a knee during the national anthem has incited a nationwide debate over such displays. And last week, the Nike campaign honoring Kaepernick’s protest has fanned the smoldering flames just in time for the start of football season.

Also last week, there were protests about the new movie First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. People objected to the omission of Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon, correctly pointing out that the American landing was a victory in the space race of the 1960s during the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The filmmaker’s decision to depict the moment as more of a human achievement than a political one was seen by some as evidence of a namby-pamby liberal sensibility.

Of course, controversy over demonstrations of patriotism in America is nothing new. In the Sixties, many protests against the Vietnam War featured the burning of the American flag. Fierce battles over Americans’ First Amendment rights vs. respect for our national symbol raged. More recently, President Trump has suggested punishment for people who would burn the flag. And so the controversy goes on.

The problem is that it’s one thing to stand up for the national anthem and another thing altogether to be a true patriot. It’s somewhat hollow to wave a flag over the bodies of men, women, and children killed in a pointless and immoral war. It’s easy to plaster a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on our cars but more important to fight for the safety and dignity of our military men and women, both active duty and veterans. And the sight of the Stars and Stripes is cold comfort to black families who have lost innocent spouses, parents, and children to police brutality.

The other day I noticed that the flags in my small home town had gone up, no doubt to commemorate the devastating losses our country suffered on 9/11. I admired the grace and beauty of the flags lining our streets as they rippled in the breeze. They brought to mind all that has transpired, both good and bad, since that horrible day when terrorists attacked our land.

What I most admire from that fateful day 17 years ago was the outpouring of support for the victims of 9/11 and their families. The courageous acts of first responders. The leadership of then-mayor Rudy Giuliani. The rebuilding of the site where the Twin Towers fell. The tireless advocacy by Jon Stewart and others to maintain the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to help those affected by the horrific act of violence. Sure, people started putting out flags and adorning their cars with patriotic messages in the wake of 9/11. But it was action, not symbolism, that made a difference in people’s lives. It was people being patriotic, not just saying they were.

One of the most iconic photographs from World War II is the Pulitzer-Prize winning shot of marines hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima. The image captures the gritty reality of war, courage, and sacrifice. Some of the flag-raisers were killed in action a few days later. The image has been depicted in movies and made into a U.S. postage stamp.

But it was the selfless sacrifice of fighting for freedom and against tyranny that made the difference – not whether or not the American flag waved from the top of Mt. Suribachi. So as we mourn the losses we sustained on 9/11 and in the ensuing years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s do more to be the patriots we claim to be when we raise the flag or place our hands over our hearts during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Losing My Religion

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I’m heartsick with grief for the sexual victims of men hiding behind the cloak of the priesthood in the Catholic Church. The revelations that thousands of children in Pennsylvania were being abused by priests while the diocesan hierarchy essentially aided and abetted their crimes has truly left my faith shaken.

Growing up, I was taught to deeply respect priests for their dedication and closeness to God, for their role in the Church in persona Christi. My teenage sisters worked in the rectory office and sometimes served dinner to our parish priests. My mother sewed their priestly vestments. To imagine any of these men violating a child in such a manner sickens and horrifies me.

The breadth of the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church is truly astounding. There seems to be no major diocese in the United States that has not been affected by it. Hundreds of priests and thousands of victims are involved. If this were any other kind of organization, there would be protests in the streets and calls for heads to roll.

Pope Francis has reiterated his sorrow at the horrors of priestly depravity, renewed his plea for forgiveness for the Church’s failures to stop it, and pledged that sexual abuse by priests will not be tolerated and that those in charge will be held accountable. But he has said all these things before. And few, if any, members of the Church hierarchy have been removed from office. Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests have listened to our pope’s words and found them wanting.

What has enabled the flourishing of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is the all male, celibate priesthood. How else to account for the untold numbers of victims? Yes, other institutions have been found to harbor sexual abusers. But there is no comparison in the number of victims and the longevity of the problem to what has gone on in the Catholic Church for decades.

The Catholic Church must address the epidemic of sexual abuse of children head on, first of all by removing not only the offending priests, but also the bishops and other higher ups who shuffled them from parish to parish and otherwise allowed them to continue to abuse children. It is also time for the Church to allow priests to marry and to welcome women into the ordained priesthood.

I’m not saying that the condition of celibacy causes pedophilia. But I do believe that the requirement makes the priesthood attractive to men who are wrestling with the demons of their own predilection for young children, and they seek refuge there in greater numbers than in the general population. I also think the presence of women within all levels of church hierarchy would make the abuses less likely to be hushed up or tolerated.

It has been extremely difficult for me to attend Mass in my local parish since the latest revelations of sexual abuse by priests came to light. My membership in the Church gives tacit acceptance to what is being done – and more importantly, what is not being done – to address this horrible stain on the reputation of Catholicism.

I don’t want to lose my religion. My faith has been a grounding and inspirational force in my life, and I believe it can still be a force for good in the world. But more of us Catholics have to stand up and demand what is right and good and holy from our leaders. Only then can we carry on the sacred mission for which Christ died on the cross.