Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why I Can't Support MoveOn Any Longer

When MoveOn.org first started gaining momentum after September 11, 2001, I was happy to have found the organization, because I felt their "progressive" values really spoke to me and my political views. MoveOn talked about peace in the face of angry nation bent on revenge. Next, during the 2002 and 2004 elections MoveOn talked about giving every person a vote and spreading democracy (and not necessarily Democrats). They talked about giving a voice to the people, helping the oppressed, and gaining real equality for all in America. Even now their web site still claims - "With over 3.3 million members across America from carpenters to stay-at-home moms to business leaders we work together to realize the progressive vision of our country’s founders. MoveOn is a service, a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media."

MoveOn, progressiveives have lost my support, because they do not truly uphold the values they claim. Indeed, MoveOn has turned into an organization just as hypocritical as both parties, and even more interested in letting money do the talking.

Please let me give you an example of grave circumstance. As a person with a physical disability I understand the importance of being able to vote independently, privately, and equally with the entire electorate. Today, I see the following new bulletin from a disability newsletter I subscribe to:

"California Sued Over Inaccessible Voting Machines-In a case with nationwide
implications, a number of disability rights organizations including AAPD,
the California Council of the Blind and the Paralyzed Veterans of America
have filed suit against California election officials, challenging the
accessibility of voting systems in a number of counties. The complaint
asserts violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and
the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002."

You can read the entire legal complaint filed here: http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/blogs/tokaji/complainingly.pdf

The HAVA Act required that by January 2006 all precincts in America have at least one accessible voting machine to allow people of all disabilities the ability to vote independently and private, and with an option to verify their vote. Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), or computer, voting systems have been certified as accessible and are also universally recognized by the disability community as being accessible to both people with visual and physical impairments. The machines are accessible, certified, and secure. However, it is the disability community that has to undo MoveOn.org's "success" and fight for our right to vote.

Under MoveOn.org's "success stories" I found the following talk about their "accomplishments" in regards to "election reform."
"In North Carolina, Colorado, Hawaii, Connecticut, and California, we won legislation requiring electronic voting machines to print paper records. Phone calls by MoveOn members played a big role in these victories —showing legislators that the public was watching. This year, 19 more states required a paper record of every vote, bringing the total to 27. More than half the states now guarantee reliable voting machines."

As you can see, MoveOn.org takes credit for getting California to change the law to be incompatible with HAVA and reverting voters with disabilities backwards.

The issue at stake, and a noble one at that, is the issue of verifiability of electronic voting machines. MoveOn.org believes that DRE voting machines are not secure and therefore are advocating for a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) as a backup system in case of a mandatory recount of votes. I have been told that DRE machines are secure and have triple redundancy built in; however, I can still understand why there is uncertainty. I even share some of the skepticism. The reason VVPAT is not accessible is because the printed paper backup ballot is not verifiable to people with visual impairments - remember the words of the acronym VVPAT or "Voter Verified." Visually disabled voters can not verify the paper ballot and are effectively left in the dark.

I think MoveOn has a laudable goal, but it is their aggressive tactics that are despicable. I have received every MoveOn.org e-mail and never has MoveOn.org even recognized the rights of people with disabilities. Never have they acknowledged that their stance on the issue was a tough one to make considering the disenfranchisement it causes people with disabilities. Never has MoveON.org expressed a willingness to compromise on the issue and find a solution that truly makes sure every single voter can vote and every voter's vote is counted. Instead, MoveOn has ruthlessly campaigned for VVPAT and reversed the progress of new DRE machines, even as people with disabilities are testifying in the same room. MoveON - where is the compassion in denying the vote to a minority group of Americans?

I have other beefs with MoveON but this is the most egregious.
For more information on accessible voting, visit: http://www.aapd-dc.org/dvpmain/dvpindex.php

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writer's Block

I have been wanting to write a new blog entry for awhile, but I have been unable to find any inspiration. In the news it seems like the same old depressing stuff: no one knows where Fidel Castro is; Israel and Hezbollah are still fighting despite a peace truce; it is uncertain if the U.N. can hold together the truce and get an international troop force deployed in time; New York City does not know how to count and calculate costs on pensions; Democrats are getting more liberal, and Republicans more conservative while the general electorate is more independent (and apathetic); Federal deficits continue to grow and so does the dollar amount that the United States pays in interest; the U.S. still relies to heavily on Middle Eastern oil and their is little hope that Congress will actually do anything to promote energy conservation and alternative sources of energy; travelers still can't take liquids on planes and probably never will; apparently snakes are allowed on planes and they were #1 at the box office this weekend; the U.S. and Britain are still fighting a "war on terror"; and still no one knows what that means exactly.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I have a special place in my heart for the Partners In Policymaking experience and all the many great people I have met through the program. For those that do not know what I am talking about, Partners is a skill building program for people with disabilities, and parents of children with disabilities designed - according to the web page of the original Partners in Policymaking program in Minnesota - to achieve two main goals: To teach best practices in disability, and the competencies of influencing public officials. To achieve these goals, you and a small (about 20 to 25 people) group of Partners (who will inevitably become close friends and allies) meet for two days each month (Friday and Saturday) for eight months to listen to expert speakers, discuss issues, and learn best practices. Of course Partners is so much more than that - it is one of those experiences where you come out the other end as a resurrected human force of good.

I graduated from Partners in 2002, but recently I attended a Partners post graduation training. Through this two day addendum to my Partners training I was able to rejuvenate the spirit of Partners that I felt four years ago. I did not learn much, but I was able to re-connect with old friends and meet some new friends (from other classes). I remembered how Partners is a place where self-actualization, enlightenment, and discovery occurs. It is also place for group camaraderie, struggle, caring, and understanding. Partners learn together, love together, grieve together, advocate together, celebrate together, and grow together. As we come together, we empower ourselves, teach each other, and communicate to the world.

If you are interested in learning more about or joining Partners you can go to the Minnesota Partners page to get more information. If you live in Kansas, you can go to this page to find more information and get an application. To find information about Partners in your state Google "Partners in Policymaking" + your state name.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Intelligence Success or Just Another Starburst Plot?

You may not have heard the big news, so please allow me to inform you that the British Foiled a Terrorist Plot to Blow Up Planes. It sounds like this was a major success for British Intelligence service MI5, American Intelligence, and world intelligence. This Washington Post Article outlines - at least according to the many leaked sources they borrow from - how these suspected terrorists were tracked for many months. Apparently, British authorities received a tip right after last year's July 7 train bombings in London about suspicious activities of a Muslim friend in the British Muslim community. Authorities followed up on the tip, and "By late 2005, the probe had expanded to involve several hundred investigators on three continents." If this is all true, it was a major operation that spanned many continents, and was a coordinated effort by British Intelligence, US Intelligence, and other countries' intelligence services, as well as their governmental cooperation. In my opinion, this is a great success because it demonstrates how intelligence is SUPPOSED to work. Intelligence services should all work together to corroborate information and survey suspected terrorists and criminals. If intelligence and law enforcement operatives have reasonable suspicions that someone is planning something, then I have no problem with getting a warrant and putting people under heavy surveillance. I was glad to hear that in this case MI5 followed the suspects for as long as possible - "British and U.S. law enforcement authorities decided against breaking up the cells right away in the hope that they could learn more about the origins of the network and assemble evidence for prosecutors." This is good for two reasons: 1) As the article points out, it allows authorities to gather as much information as possible about all aspects of the plot, and possibly other plots, and of course connections. 2) It allows law enforcement to have more substantial evidence that a real and impending plot to kill was going to occur. The lesson learned here is that when intelligence services are vigilant, careful, collaborative, and well resourced they can stop terror before it occurs. This means that the old school rules of war - IE, tanks and bombs - are obsolete and the underground war is at hand. Please take note Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld!

What I am concerned about, however, is the degree to which we have responded in order to beef up security. I wonder if we are losing freedoms and convenience and ultimately the war on terror by placing these restrictive rules on travel? How long are these "liquid restrictions" going to last? As one article proclaims - "Liquid Threat is Hard To Detect.
It seems to me that if a person bent on terrorism has made it to the airport already with their weapon of choice, then they probably have a good plan to get through security. In addition, what is stopping them from doing the same thing on subway trains where something like liquid explosives would be nearly impossible with current technology and security to detect? This underscores an important point that this article makes clear - "Their [Al Queada on 9/11] choice of weapons underscored the potential danger in seemingly benign items." The NY Times article about the liquid threat mention that "There are technologies that may do the job [of detecting liquid explosives] — without simply throwing all liquids into the trash." I am all for technologies that can scan or detect as you move through a security checkpoint, but in the meantime is it really necessary to have to throw in the trash everything from everybody? If you think about it, if someone did have a liquid explosive and it was just thrown in the trash, then isn't it possible it would blow up in the airport as personnel transport it to a dumpster?

Here is a plot I dreamed up that demonstrates why it might just be impossible to detect against everything. Have you ever carefully unwrapped a Starburst candy and then took the wrapper and folded back into a perfect replication of the original wrapping, but without the candy inside? (If you haven't, it is possible to make it look like you have a wrapped starburst w/o actually having any candy inside - it is a cruel trick to play on Starburst lovers) Then, what if one were to fill that wrapper with some sort of explosive material? I do not know if this is possible, but could you mix corn starch and water (or something like it) to a liquid explosive and make it into a crystallized form? If so, you put that into a bag of Starbursts and figure out a way to ignite it and BOOM! To mix it up, in case of a suspicious TSA agent (which is unlikely) you could even mix in some real Starbursts - say like all the yellow ones (since they are the best flavor) are real candy and not the explosive material. Whether my plan would work I do not know because I am not an explosives expert; however, I imagine that there are unlimited ways to mask explosives and weapons as seemingly innocuous items.

Considering this, have we not gone too far with restrictions? Is it not the goal of the terrorists to "inflict terror" and "disrupt our way of life"? Are we not scared and fearful? Are our lives not being disrupted? We should really step back and consider at what point have we gone too far, and at what point do we just need to realize that the possibility of a terrorist attack is inevitable. I stumbled upon this Video Log about this subject and was impressed by what this guy ZEFrank had to say. I have included it in my blog for your convenience.

the show with zefrank

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Israel, Hezbollah, and Elevators

Today, the conflict in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel continues as Israel moves 8,000 ground troops into Southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah fires over 200 rockets into Israel. This doesn't sound like very good news in a war that is likely to have very little good news, except for maybe if you consider that if Israel starts using more ground troops, and stops air strikes, then possibly less civilians will be killed. I do not pretend to know the answers in this horrible mess in the Middle East, but what I do know is that it does have a tremendous impact on the world, and it will, in some way or another, trickle back to the United States. Americans should be very concerned about the fighting, but I am afraid many times it only gets a cursory glance by television news media, and subsequently the general American public. Apparently, Mel Gibson's drunken tirade is more important.
Yesterday, Thomas Friedman, who recently visited Syria and Israel talked very candidly on NPR about the power interests involved in the fighting, most especially Syria. I found his comments to be very refreshing, and incredibly insightful, as well as informative. I recommend everyone listen to Thomas Friedman on NPR.

Of course, the most important news of the days is the crisis of the members-only elevators on Capitol Hill. Apparently, stupid people who can not read signs are inundating the Senators' members only elevators, and United States' Senators do not take kindly to that. I do very much admonish people who can not read signs and follow simple directions, but at the same time I do not feel too sorry for members of Congress. Personally, I think they should all take the stairs! A little exercise might actually help them get ready for the campaign trail. In full disclosure, I once took the members only elevator in a House office building, but in my defense, I was with a staff member of a Member of Congress, and the staff person ushered me into the elevator on our way to an event. Otherwise, I was very cognizant of when I could or could not use those elevators, and often just erred on the side of not using them. Also, I use a wheelchair, otherwise I'd take the stairs myself.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MTV Turns 25, Castro May Not Turn 80

Today the Music Television Network known popularly as MTV turns 25 years old today after debuting with the video "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles in 1981. This is, of course, fun but trivial news, that is only useful in giving us all a feeling of nostalgia and reminding us how old we are.

More importantly - today it was announced that Fidel Castro is temporarily relinquishing power to his brother Raul. Apparently Castro is having surgery for some intestinal problems, but no one knows his exact status. Castro's 80th birthday is in two weeks and there is much speculation about the state of Castro's health. This is a story that everyone around the world, most especially Americans, need to follow closely. Cuba has always had much weight in Central and South America, and the balance of power in that region will shift dramatically after the de-throning of Castro. Some see the significance, see Peter's blog, but unfortunately many people do not even know that Castro is ill (or possibly ill). What I find interesting is that reports have said that Cuba has been promoting Fidel's brother Raul over the last weeks. This, coupled with the current incident of Castro reporting ill, has fostered many rumours about Fidel Castro. One theory is that Castro is seriously ill or possibly dead. Another theory is that this is a ploy to test-run Raul as a leader for when Fidel is actually seriously ill. I am more inclined to believe that Fidel Castro is actually in trouble, since he has always been known to have an extremely tight hold on power and control. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would give up any power for any reason. Therefore, it is very possible that he is currently dying in Cuba. My guess is as good as yours, but regardless, we need to keep a close eye on the situation. Even if Fidel is currently okay, or Raul is peacefully handed power, both men are very old and will eventually pass, with only an uncertain future for Cuba and the world leftover.