Monday, August 23, 2004

One reason I started to blog.

If you click the title you will see a letter to the editor (about the middle of the webpage, titled "Follow the Money") I had sent a couple of weeks back to my local entertainment weekly, The Metro Times. I like this paper mainly for its coverage of local issues from a perspective much like mine. It also has a fine columnist named Jack Lessenberry. I recommend exploring the site particularily if you are from the Detroit area.

As to the letter (actually an e-mail) I had sent that they printed, I was disappointed in the edit they did. I did send a long letter and didn't really expect it to be printed. It was long and was really more of a venting on my part on the problems of American democracy. Most newspapers ask readers to limit the response to a specific word count and I just don't feel like counting words to limit my expression of thoughts. I've had letters printed in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and in those cases I had submitted less words than their limit, yet they were still edited. How frustrating, I followed the rules and still they opted to alter my submission.

My experience with letters to the editors is partly why I've started this weblog. When these newspapers limit my words and then cut more words, it feels so much like denying my freedom of speech. You can bet that if I took out an ad and paid for it, they'd let me scrunch in as many words as I could fit into the ad box. Freedom of speech in America has increasingly depended on paying money to have it. So, here I am blogging for free and so far I like it. Anyway below is the actual letter I had sent so that you can compare the difference. I found that the printed, edited version had a different tone than what I wrote, you be the judge.


It seems your July 28-Aug. 3 edition had a connection in the columns of Jack Lessenberry, Keith A. Owens and Khary Kimani Turner that touches on several (but not all) of the problems in American democracy. Lessenberry expressed his disappointment with the major TV networks reducing their coverage of the political conventions to just one hour per night, Owens pointed out the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida in the 2000 national election, and Turner's article covered the subject of carpetbagging by political candidates in Detroit.

All of those articles put together begin to make the case that democracy in America is in the midst of a crisis. Those problems can be added to a number of other difficulties as well. For instance, as we saw in the 2000 election Al Gore had more votes than George Bush but lost because of the archaic Electoral College, which is why Florida became such a hot spot in the first place. Only in the race for president is this ridiculous system used and in 2000 Al Gore was defeated even though the nation as a whole chose him.

We can then add in the practice of gerrymandering. This is the system where after a census is taken and the proportions of the populations of all the states becomes newly established. The problem is that whichever party holds the state legislature they get to draw the lines on the map to make the new districts. This has become so partisan and convoluted that the most strangest shapes you might imagine become the outlines for the new districts. This is done to create Republican or Democratic dominated districts. The result of many years of this practice has resulted in completely noncompetitive congressional races. Incumbents win over 90% of all the races in the country now.

Then there is the subject of third parties. Over the course of our history the two major parties have colluded in many states to create highly difficult rules for how a third party and their candidates get access to the ballot. Most states require various numbers of people to sign petitions unlike the two major parties that don't have to do this for ballot access. As we see this year with the trouble independent candidate Ralph Nader is having to get on all 50 state ballots. The Green Party and Libertarian Party as well will not be on every state ballot despite being the next most popular parties in the country after the two behemoths. No wonder so many voters feel they have few choices and vote for the lesser of two evils if they vote at all.

Which brings up another problem, the disinterest in simply showing up to vote. Most elections don't see even half the registered voters even participate and that doesn't include eligible voters who don't even register. Our population as a whole has essentially dropped out of the most basic right of democracy. This has been an aspect that many election experts have pondered and tried to create solutions for, such as easier ways to register or mail-in voting. But it probably has some deeper meaning to it. Possible an attitude within our population that our democracy is failing us, or that elected officials are not responsive to us.

Maybe another issue has much to do with this, money. As John Kerry and George Bush vie for the presidency we all know the tonnage of dollars they are having to obtain to mainly run their commercials on TV, radio and print. Hundreds of millions will be flying around into the media to help us decide which commercialized candidate to believe. And when we follow the money, we naturally are suspicious that the biggest donors to the candidate that wins will get the laws, legislation and tax breaks they want. Many of us believe it to be what it looks like, bribery. To answer Mr. Lessenberry, why should the major TV networks broadcast all of the convention when the two candidates are going to shovel bags of money to them to air their advertising that will say essentially the same thing that the two candidates will bleat during the convention?

I could go on about other issues in our "democracy" such as a lack of a uniform voting system. Punch-cards, scanning systems, paper ballots, touch screen, mail-in, name it, we do it all around the country with erratic results. Or what of the system of attaching riders to bills in Congress, the direct fault of what we refer to as pork barrel projects. I would laugh (if it wasn't so sad) when people link the words democracy and America together. Bush wants to turn Iraq into a democracy, yet our version is nothing to be held up to as an example. In fact I wouldn't even call America a democracy anymore, I'd call it neo-anarchy. Oh, I'll still vote because I still believe in democracy, just not ours.


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