Reader’s Forum—Al Bell

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Al Bell at 2017 National Conference of Independents

I was forced several times in reading Ratf**ked, by David Daley, to stop and reread the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It contains 52 of the most powerful words in the vast heritage that has brought us to this point in The Great American Experiment. The unprecedented We, the People… leads off this statement of vision, purpose, mission—and that foundation quietly emerges time and again throughout Mr. Daley’s book. It is an echo, as it were, of the point of the whole story.

Ideas generated by the current selection of the Politics4thePeople book club clearly demonstrate the value of exchanging ideas and hearing different voices, a key quality that powers the club. While there have been fewer posts (so far) on this selection than some in the past, their content is highly instructive and provides valuable insights that aid the rest of us in processing what the author is telling us.

Dr. Jessie Fields provided an excellent overview of the essence of the Republican Party’s successful campaign to gerrymander legislative districts at state and federal levels to enable the party and its candidates to select voters rather than the reverse. The responsible perpetrators express pride in what they have done. That mentality is a pathetic distortion of Americanism. It perverts everything we stand for.

Then, comes along Lou Hinman’s pointed commentary that makes explicit what haunts many of us in the independent voting movement: both parties have become cynical masters of political intrigue and gamesmanship by which they collaborate in crowding out any voices they do not wish to hear from We the People. Lou clearly unmasks the mutual game of chicken the major parties play in controlling our political process. As Mr. Daley points out, the Democratic party is belatedly tuning in to the power of Maptitude as a means of unraveling as much of the Republican party’s advantage as possible. The game remains the same; just the actors change.

The bottom line here is that the Democratic and Republican parties, over many years, have jointly shanghaied our democratic republic. While they properly share the blame, the Republican party currently owns the front lines, paid for in cash.

Oh, one more question. Why, exactly, did We the People let them do it? That is a question for another dialogue.

I would be negligent in failing to note the significance of Arizona in this tale of woe as told by the author. Citizens established Arizona’s Redistricting Commission by initiative. State Republican leadership sought to eliminate it via court action and lost at the Supreme Court. More recently, our Republican Legislature enacted laws to seriously impede citizen initiatives and referenda. Citizens are now organizing, seeking to reverse that action. Mr. Daley describes the earlier challenges faced in the Arizona redistricting process with considerable insight. It was not flawless, but it is easy to envision a significantly more political—and Republican dominated—outcome had the Legislature remained in charge of the process. Politics will always be a factor. The real question is, can such deliberations at least avoid political considerations as the sole driver? The Arizona example says yes. So far.

I will come to our author’s defense for focusing on the Republican party in this sense. The GOP has initiated a new level of political weaponry, escalating quickly from muskets to machineguns. Whether Mr. Daley has it right or not about the Democratic party’s leadership default in this case, he reveals the new weapons of political war that currently victimize our nation. That naturally leads to the question of what to do about it.

The author suggests seven strategies to reverse or at least mitigate this cynical onslaught against our electoral processes. They include:

  1. Support Democratic efforts to recapture enough legislative seats by 2020 to enable them to lead a “permanent gerrymandering disarmament plan”. In other words, lead toward the high ground, don’t just recapture lost ground.
  2. Seek establishment of even more independent redistricting committees at state levels than now exist.
  3. Wherever possible, seek initiatives to reverse gerrymandering practices.
  4. Continue to push for Supreme Court decisions that impose controls on gerrymandering and reverse the most egregious cases of it (now an active arena; see the current North Carolina case).
  5. Experiment in at least one state with multi-member districts to defuse the partisan control mechanisms.
  6. Enrage and engage more voters in supporting redistricting reforms to enfranchise voters instead of parties.
  7. Aggressively motivate progressive voters to vote in mid-term elections in contrast to historic minimum turnouts in such elections to wrest control from the Republican vote gathering machine.

None of these is easy, nor are they feasible everywhere. However, chinks in the armor can be achieved one initiative, one state, one city, and one court case at a time. It will take a long time, certainly more than anyone aggrieved by the current system would prefer. Mr. Daley offers ample motivation to start down that path.

Another tactic strikes me as having value in reinforcing his suggestions. It consists of a relentless effort by many of the public interest organizations and their memberships in the U.S. to conduct media, public education, and political campaigns at whatever level or levels they may operate. Campaign messages could make any or all of the following points. It would make sense to target Democratic and Republican transgressions similarly, wherever they occur.

  1. Depriving any qualified voter from exercising his/her franchise is unconstitutional and cynically anti-American. It is an insult to the very foundation of our nation. It blatantly denigrates the sacrifices of the more than 1.3 million Americans whose lives have been lost in defending our right to self-governance under the Constitution.
  2. Perpetrators of the so-called RedMap system manifest a perverse rejection of the basic premise of our Constitution: that it belongs to all of us. They have a right to their opinions, but they have absolutely no standing to destroy the very foundation that underpins every citizen’s rights, including their own! They do not own our vote; we do. At least, so we thought.
  3. Spending dark money to intimidate candidates, structure legislative districts that cut citizens of any political persuasion out of an effective voice in electing our leaders, and imposing voting districts that advance this mentality, is cowardly behavior. It reflects a pathetic lack of confidence in the legitimacy of their positions and seeks, instead, to avoid challenges by neutering other voices. It is logically incomprehensible and solidly hypocritical for passionate believers in competitive free enterprise concepts, to throw obscene levels of money at arbitrarily suppressing the competition of ideas. There is a name for governance structured this way and democratic republic isn’t one of them.
  4. The RedMap system is a tool for destroying this nation and the governance it so desperately needs in these times of overwhelming division, complexity, rapidity of change, global challenges, uncertainty, technological breakthroughs, and all of their cumulative and profound social and economic implications. Intentional destruction of governance systems for essential dialogue and reasoned negotiation is irredeemably Anti-American.
  5. Disenfranchisement by any means is essentially a form of theft and extortion. It seeks to slice targeted Americans out of the governance process. It is anything but a legitimate source of pride.
  6. We often hear that “all is fair in love and war”. Many would readily add: “and in politics, too.”

No it isn’t.

Of course, politicians and their supporters, past and present, have demonstrated atrocious behaviors in politics. At some level, that will continue by Republicans and Democrats alike (see Mr. Hinman). Still, real American leaders set points beyond which they will not go. The stakes have become so great because of cumulative misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance by both parties that it is time to talk openly and loudly about the price we are paying for their hypocritical behavior. If they will not, we must.

One can say many things about such behavior. It is fundamentally inexcusable. No amount of rationalizing doubletalk can explain it away. Those who perpetrate this approach to our governance structures are exhibiting unpatriotic behavior in the extreme. We must not “give a pass” to those who are numb to the needs of our nation and proud of disenfranchising their fellow citizens by playing clever games. Why would we allow them to hide behind their arrogant defenses? Let’s call them out for behaving as enemies of the people. We the People.

Reinforced by David Daley’s clear documentation, we cannot repeat his message too often and in too many places. Today it is the Republican party. Tomorrow, by its own admission, the Democratic party intends to storm down the same path. Thank you, David Daley, for bringing such a clear picture of this Anti-American swamp to our attention. Now it is up to us.

All of this is enough to make you want to be an independent voter! Hmmm.

Al Bell lives in Peoria, AZ and is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

*Reminder*

Conference Call with David Daley

Author of RATF**KED

Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

 

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Readers’ Forum–Al Bell and Catana Barnes. P4P Call Tonight

Our final commentaries on EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City are by Al Bell from Arizona and Catana Barnes from Nevada.

Dial in this evening at 7 pm EST for our conversation with the author of EVICTED, Matthew Desmond.  The call in number is 641 715-3605 and the access code is 767775#.

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Al Bell (R) with Arizona democracy activists, Tim Castro (L), Patrick McWhortor, Amanda Melcher and Adriana Espinoza

 

Evicted is a story we need to know. It can only be known by living within it, not talking about it. Matthew Desmond knows and we are privileged to be exposed to that knowledge.

Your respondents have made the clear case that most of us have never had to face the life Matthew Desmond shared with us in Evicted. Many thing can be said of this powerful story. One of them is that, if one has ever lived in circumstances like those Mathew describes, his ability to convey what that feels like is exceptional, indeed. While our family was never evicted in the way Matthew depicts, I do remember living as a kid in a trailer camp where the four year old girl next door burned to death because she tipped a can of kerosene on a hot plate on the floor of the sixteen foot trailer her family lived in (same size as ours). When the trains roared by, a couple hundred feet away, everything shook and rattled. We were in our own world and the “other” world where real people lived was something of a mystery. The vast difference between that experience and those Matthew describes, however, is that we had a way out and it eventually worked.

Yes, housing does matter and we escaped owing to unique circumstances. The people Matthew writes about will never enjoy those circumstances as long as our current housing culture prevails—and probably not even if it changes for the better. Lag times and generational gaps are immense. Having spent 47 years in the community planning business, I could go on all day about the multiple dimensions of how the dice are loaded for people like those in Matthew’s book. You’re lucky: I won’t do that!

What is truly incredible about Matthew’s story is how he lived it himself—an act of commitment most of us would never contemplate, let alone carry out. This story reveals so much because it is told through the eyes of real experience, not vicarious tales. I was waiting through most of the book to find out if this is real, or some feat of imagination. Then came the last chapter and an avalanche of insight and revelation.

In contrast to most investigative reports, I spent a significant amount of time with his chapter notes. They could be a book all in themselves.

I know you will express our book club members’ gratitude for Matthew’s commitment to revealing reality by living it himself. That is true dedication. I have no idea how he did that and managed to live his own life at the same time. We are truly in his debt. His wife must be some kind of saint! You can certainly add my name to the list of appreciative and highly impressed readers.

And thank you, Cathy, for exposing us to this amazing work.

 Al Bell is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

Catana Barnes

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Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is one of the best books I have had the pleasure to read. The accounts of real life struggles brought me to tears more than once as I watched someone I know going through the very issues being faced in the book as well as the very real struggles I face myself. I was also struck by the number of societal pitfalls that ensnare those who are not fortunate enough to buy their way out of their plight.

I grew up poor, by all American standards, and have become even more impoverished throughout adulthood. As I was reading Evicted, I came to the realization that the lives of my children, many of my friends and I have been significantly influenced by the societal pitfalls Matthew Desmond alludes to in his book. Unfortunately, it appears that the societal pitfalls are becoming more expansive at the same time there is greater monetary reward for landlords.

One of the most striking chapters I have read so far is Chapter 2: Making Rent. I learned a great deal about the impact of corporations moving their companies out of the country in search of cheap labor as well as the impact of President Clinton’s welfare reform that took place in the early 1990s. I also learned that there are people who have had to and are paying up to ninety percent of their income on rent alone and the fact that laws and policies protect landlords and punish tenants.

Matthew Desmond does a superb job at reaching the conscience and heart of the reader. He also does a superb job at educating the reader about a highly destructive societal pitfall. As I stated previously, I consider “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to be one of the best books I have ever read and highly recommend it to everyone.

Catana Barnes is the founder and President of Independent Voters of Nevada.

***

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

TONIGHT

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Reader’s Forum–Al Bell

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Al Bell (R) with activists from Open Primaries and Independent Voters for Arizona, May 2016

A Marshall Plan for America:  a review by Al Bell of Part Six of Who Stole the American Dream? By Hedrick Smith: Challenge and Response

Hedrick Smith tells the story—quite tellingly—of how and why the American Dream is in trouble. He ends by suggesting ten steps—a Marshall Plan for America—for turning that around. This review focuses on those steps.

Now, four years after its writing, is this still worth reading? Absolutely. Are the action steps still relevant? Same answer. The reason: force and counterforce have reached fever pitch in the current political attack on historic governance institutions. Anger at everything, trust of nothing, and mountains of money seem to drive our politics. Limited progress on a few fronts leave the situation still grim.

This book joins many others in proposing approaches to long-festering American issues. This is beyond the focus of the Independent Movement specifically, which seeks to enfranchise independent voters, enabling them to participate in and influence our governance. Yet, I believe these excursions are essential. After all, a major purpose for seeking a better electoral process is to achieve a better governance outcome. Strengthening voting is both an end and a means.

I have clustered the steps in a somewhat different order and add only one step from a different source (the author’s sequence appears in parentheses). This is, in part, my attempt to consider circumstances now compared to 2012. You are perfectly welcome to shoot holes in my sequence; just don’t shoot the messenger!

  1. (5) Fix the Corporate Tax Code to Promote Job Creation at Home.
  2. (4) Make the U.S. Tax Code Fairer

Like it or not, politics follows the money. I view these as an indivisible couplet. A sliver of bipartisan light seems to be shining on improving our bizarre taxation system. Congress needs to demonstrate—for itself and for Americans generally—that it can actually solve real problems. Maybe these will break the logjam.

  1. (10) Mobilize the Middle Class
  2. (9) Rebuild the Political Center

This is the terrain of IndependentVoting.org and others focused on voting equity for the largest segment of American voters. I note that: 1) the independent voting movement is already well started and will continue to mature, 2) these initiatives currently operate despite congressional, presidential and party nonfeasance, and 3) success on steps one and two could potentially help steps three and four along.

  1. (2) Push Innovation, Science and High-Tech Research
  2. (1) [Substantially Expand] Infrastructure Jobs to Compete Better

I combine these two because they are central to essential job growth and promote a desirably wide range of employment opportunities. Strong intergovernmental and public/private partnerships—many already in place—will be essential because these are such interrelated initiatives. Return on investment is immense.

  1. (3) Generate a Manufacturing Renaissance
  2. (7) Save on War and Weapons

These two steps are a natural pairing because they will need to be phased in over an extended period. Jobs lost to defense related work will need to be picked up in broader manufacturing categories. We have done this before; those memories need to be refreshed and recalibrated.

  1. (6) Push China to Live up to Fair Trade
  2. (8) Fix Housing and Protect the Safety Net

I am inclined to pull the safety net component out for specific attention and tie it to steps one and two. China relationships and the housing market are so long-term in nature that we might think of them, respectively, as ongoing foreign policy and domestic programs. Attention must be relentless and collaborative.

I suggest an added step proposed by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their recently updated book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks Was. It could be entitled “Restore Workable Procedures to the Senate.” It should appear near the top of the list. They argue that partisan tinkering with Senate rules has weakened the governance capability the Constitution expects of the Senate (this book should be high on our reading list, too).

It is often said that we are a nation of laws. That is an incomplete sentence. We are a nation of imperfect laws, written by imperfect people, through an imperfect process. Counterculture though it may be, we have to keep paying attention. Mr. Smith provides clues on where to direct that attention. We are not big on attention span, especially given the toxic war the political parties have declared on America.

It has been argued that Americans do best when confronted by a powerful and imminent threat. It’s here. It’s us, just as Pogo once observed. Nobody said that keeping a republic alive and well would be easy and they were surely right. Hedrick Smith offers ample evidence. He also presents a coherent strategy for rebuilding confidence in ourselves.

This Mr. Smith brought Washington to us. Bravo!

***

Reminder: Politics for the People

Conference Call With Hedrick Smith

Sunday, June 19th @ 7 pm EST

(641) 715-3605   Code 767775#

 

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