|Number 504||March 23, 2012|
This Week: Voter Suppression and War Propaganda
This issue of the Notes concerns itself with the related issues of voter suppression and propaganda. They're related in the sense that propaganda is one of the key tools being used to suppress votes, and the votes that are being suppressed include many votes that could help to elect people who might be a little less enamored of war, be it war overseas or war on poor people right here in the U.S. of A. That potential to set limits on the Imperial agenda at home and abroad—largely unrealized in recent years, but still nerve-wracking for the One Percent—is, after all, why the votes of a growing underclass are dangerous and must be suppressed.
The last issue of the Notes was filled with bold-face type and italics. This one is, too. I am doing this partly to emphasize that there are numerous and diverse ways to educate ourselves and take action to address this crisis of democracy that I am calling Voter Suppression. If you are moved to take action—or if you are already taking action—on this issue, please write to Nygaard Notes and let me know what you are doing. I plan to write about this issue a lot between now and the next election. And probably after.
It's another double issue this week. I'm trying to make up for the infrequent publication in January and February. There's certainly no lack of crucial subjects. I've got a couple of major pieces in the works that I'll send your way whenever they get done. In the meantime, there are lots of shorter pieces just waiting to be shoved out the proverbial door. 2012 is shaping up to be quite a year, indeed.
Eyes wide open,
"Today we are experiencing an unprecedented attack on voting rights. This assault on voters is sweeping across the country, state by state, and is one of the greatest self-inflicted threats to our democracy—our way of governing—in our lifetimes. These new laws threaten to silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in this country – the poor, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the differently abled. These new laws require photo ID and/or proof of citizenship in order to vote, they restrict third party voter registration drives, decrease early voting and eliminate Election Day registration.
"The League of Women Voters of the United States calls on state legislatures to repeal and reject the whole range of voter suppression measures. They are costly, unnecessary and undemocratic. If the states are unable or unwilling to protect the rights of every eligible citizen to vote, the federal government must step in to ensure these rights are protected."
That's from a statement by Elisabeth Macnamara, President of the League Of Women Voters Of The United States. She was speaking on November 14, 2011 at a forum entitled "Excluded From Democracy: The Impact Of Recent State Voting Changes," hosted By Representative John Conyers, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Nygaard Notes I often point out the various ways in which reporters reinforce prevailing ideas. By "prevailing" I mean the ideas that are widely-enough shared that they form the basis and justification for some very important policies. As long as these ideas do prevail, the policies upon which they are based are likely to remain free of any serious challenge. Shaking up such prevailing ideas is a big part of why I publish Nygaard Notes.
Reporting from war zones is perhaps where we see propaganda most commonly, and where it is most easy to see. At least, I think it's easy to see, once we get the hang of it. This article and the two that follow offer examples of how journalists intentionally, or more likely unintentionally, promote ideas that help to keep some widely-unpopular policies in place. They focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which U.S. foreign policy planners refer to as "AfPak."
"Abandoning the Country"
On March 5th a story from the Associated Press (AP) was headlined "Talks Bog down on US-Afghan Agreement." The article discussed "Negotiations over a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan."
In the third paragraph we read that "Trust has eroded in recent days with anti-American protests over Quran burnings at a U.S. base, a rising number of U.S. troops gunned down by Afghan security forces and election-year demands to bring the troops home."
Later, about a third of the way through the article, we find this paragraph:
"The pact is expected to provide for several thousand U.S. troops to stay and train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. It aims to outline the legal status of those forces, their operating rules and where they will be based. The agreement, which was supposed to be completed before the next NATO summit in May in Chicago, also is seen as means of assuring the Afghan people that the U.S. does not plan to abandon the country, even as it withdraws its combat forces."
Ah, where to begin? How about that "trust" that is said to be eroding? An extensive series of 2,000 interviews of Afghan men conducted in the spring of 2011 [Why only men? I don't know.] by the London-based independent think tank the International Council on Security and Development led them to conclude that "There is a generalised belief among interviewees that the international community does not protect, and does not respect, the Afghan people or their culture and religion." In the south of Afghanistan a full 86 percent of those interviewed think that "working with foreign forces. . . is wrong." (By "foreign forces," they mean United States forces, among others.)
That was a year ago. If "trust" is eroding from that point, where are we now?
Here's another I-Wish-This-Were-Obvious point, having to do with the hoped-for agreement to have U.S. troops stay and "help" the Afghan people. The bias here is revealed when the AP says that such an agreement "is seen" (by whom we don't know) as a way to "assure the Afghan people that the U.S. does not plan to abandon the country." This makes about as much sense as a homeowner watching a burglar take off with her possessions, then complaining that the burglar is "abandoning" her. That is, the AP story only makes sense if we ignore the fact that the United States is an occupying army in a country that does not wish to be occupied.
As Tariq Ali wrote in the London Review of Books on March 12th, "It's hardly a secret that most Afghans are opposed to the occupation of their country. Occupying soldiers are well aware of the fact." The only people not aware of it, apparently, are the journalists who routinely—the AP is not unique here—report on the occupation as a form of "help" being offered to the Afghan people. On February 29th USA Today reported that "Contractors poll 13,000 Afghans from across the country every three months, and military officials analyze the results." I'd love to see how many of these respondents see the U.S. as "helping" them, but apparently these polls are classified, since I can't find the results of any of them, anywhere. I'm still digging, and will write about anything I do come up with.
On March 19th the New York Times ran a story on the front page headlined, "Drones at Issue as U.S. Rebuilds Ties to Pakistan." Drones, as Nygaard Notes readers are well aware, are the remote-control, unmanned aircraft that the U.S. deploys around the world for a variety of purpose, including the killing of people. I've been writing about them for years. (See Nygaard Notes #405 from April of 2008 for a couple of stories on this.)
The article begins by saying that "as Pakistan and the United States try to restart their troubled relationship after a year of spectacular crises, the difference could come down to drones.
"For the Obama administration, facing a faltering war effort and increasingly distrustful allies in Afghanistan, the covert C.I.A. drone strike campaign centered on North and South Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan has acquired new relevance.
"Although the drones are best known for targeting senior commanders of Al Qaeda—two more were reported killed in January—they also play a vital role in combating cross-border infiltration from Taliban havens inside Pakistan. Of the 10 confirmed strikes so far this year, 6 hit vehicles filled with fighters that, in several cases, were headed for the Afghan border, a senior United States official said."
The next paragraph puts this article into the "News of the Weird" category: "'We must protect the troops, and almost all of that stuff is in Waziristan,' said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the drone program is classified."
Classified, you say! The headline says "Drones at Issue." The article says that drones are "known" for killing in Pakistan. The article says that there are "10 confirmed strikes so far this year." The article discusses the "vital role" of drones in Pakistan. The article says that "the covert C.I.A. drone campaign. . . has acquired new relevance." Near the end of the article we read that "In January, President Obama publicly acknowledged the covert program for the first time." Nygaard Notes published a piece in 2008 headlined "UAVs in Pakistan, One Story." ("Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" is the technical name for "drones.")
What, exactly, does "classified" mean in this context? It probably means about what it means to another major news organization, USA Today, as we'll see in the next article.
On March 15th, just days after the murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier, or soldiers, in the Panjwayi district of Afghanistan, USA Today ran an article headlined "Killings Cast Pall over Local Operations; Embedded in Villages, Special Forces Build Trust."
How, exactly, do the Special Forces "build trust"? Oh, so many ways! Here's a selection from the USA Today report, with little headlines, and italics, added by Nygaard.
Special Forces Protect The People:
"The village where a U.S. sergeant is accused of a massacre probably had a very close, daily relationship with the Green Berets [Special Forces are sometimes called Green Berets] who protected the village and taught people there how to defend themselves from the Taliban, military experts say."
Special Forces Stabilize Villages:
"... the accused soldier was not part of the Special Forces . . . he was a member of the 'conventional troops' who supported the Special Forces in a relatively new concept in the decade-long war known as 'village stabilization operations,' or VSO."
Special Forces Prepare The People:
VSOs are "where Special Forces troops are trying to prepare Afghans to maintain their own security once NATO troops depart for good."
Special Forces Are Mentors:
"It's a precarious and at times stressful balancing act for the Special Forces, who must be both warriors and mentors while living among a population in which the Taliban and its sympathizers lurk, says Marine Col. Willard Buhl, an active-duty officer."
Special Forces Take Risks for the Locals:
Adds Buhl, "The Special Forces are particularly vulnerable because they aren't very large and embed with the local population."
Special Forces Work With Local Leaders:
"In a VSO, highly skilled special operations troops situate themselves next to and sometimes inside rural villages that have been cleared of the Taliban and work with the local leaders daily to establish police and intelligence operations."
Special Forces Are Not All That Violent:
"While the popular perception of the Special Forces is that of a lethal squad of Taliban hunters, much of what they do in the VSO is 'non-kinetic,' that is, non-lethal operations."
Special Forces Kill the Bad Guys:
"The special operations troops also go out on patrols and raids, sometimes at night, to kill or capture Taliban operatives."
Special Forces Blend Right In To the Local Scene:
"Members of the Special Forces are especially adept at working with local leaders because of their extensive training and language skills. They often dress in local clothing and grow out their beards to look like Afghan men."
Special Forces Go Where They are Invited:
"Special Forces form close relations with the ALP [Afghan Local Police] commanders, and there is a growing list of villages asking for a VSO to chase away the Taliban, according to the International Security Assistance Force, the U.S.-led organization that oversees military operations in Afghanistan."
Oh, by the way. . .
Well, this all sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It might sound a little different, however, after you read the following paragraph, which was awkwardly inserted in the latter part of the article (paragraph 13 of 19):
"Special Forces operations are largely off-limits to journalists, and their activities go unreported except for the occasional release of a statement by the military."
That's right, basically every single word in this Ode To the Special Forces was fed to USA Today by the Pentagon. What the Special Forces actually do "goes unreported" and remains "largely off-limits to journalists."
All that's really missing here is the final line: "I'm Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and I approve this message."
The last issue of Nygaard Notes was entirely devoted to the subject of voter suppression. That is, the nationwide assault on voting rights that is currently underway, and that is hitting hardest at young people, people of color, low-income people, and people with disabilities. Even though the last issue of the Notes was extra-long, and was devoted to that one subject, I still ran out of room and left some very important things unsaid. One of those things was a list of resources for people who wish to learn more and DO something about this unbelievable crime-in-progress.
This article addresses that omission. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but is simply a sampling of things that I think are 1) Uniquely well-researched; 2) Eloquent; 3) Raising important points not raised elsewhere, or 4) Entertaining(!).
TWO BASIC OVERVIEWS OF VOTER SUPPRESSION
For anyone concerned with the historic assault on voting rights that is currently underway, there are TWO KEY DOCUMENTS that provide the substantive information we all need to begin to raise consciousness about this ongoing crime.
The first document is the one from which I quoted very extensively in the last issue of the Notes. Called "DEFENDING DEMOCRACY: CONFRONTING MODERN BARRIERS TO VOTING RIGHTS IN AMERICA," it was put out by the NAACP on December 5th, 2011 and runs to 72 pages. As extensive as last week's excerpts were, there is lots more to look at in this document. Check out "Appendix 1," which takes a look at the changing demographics of voting, a trend which seems to be a key motivator for the attacks on voting rights enumerated here. I also recommend the section on the Voting Rights Act, particularly the information about attacks on Section 5 of the Act. Activists would be wise to become knowledgeable about this crucial part of the struggle for voting rights.
The second document is a 64-page study called "VOTING LAW CHANGES IN 2012," released on October 3rd 2011 by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. (Documentation? 20 pages of the 64 are footnotes!) You can find it online HERE.
VOTING RIGHTS ORGANIZING AND ADVOCACY
The AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU) lists voting rights as one of their Key Issues. "The ACLU Voting Rights Project works to counter [modern day efforts to suppress voter turnout and registration] through lobbying, litigation and public education," their website says. And on their website you'll find an amazing 2009 report, "Voting Rights in Indian Country," which is just about the only study of the subject in existence, as far as I can tell. If you don't think that overtly racist conspiracies exist to deny political power to Native people, read this report.
"Most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that there is no provision of U.S. law that affirmatively guarantees citizens the right to vote. No such right is explicitly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the 1965 Voting Rights Act or any other federal legislation." That comment comes from THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT, which describes itself as "a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999." They have a "Right to Vote initiative" which they tell us "is an extension of U.S. Representative Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.'s pioneering work (House Joint Resolution 28), which spearheaded the most recent movement to enshrine the right to vote into the U.S. Constitution by amendment." Learn more HERE.
THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS: These folks do all kinds of stuff that helps protect the right to vote, from educating voters to registering voters to testifying against voter suppression efforts, and more. Well, here's what they say about one project of their Education Fund that is relevant to this list: "Eligible citizens should be empowered and enabled to vote without needless barriers standing in their way. The LWVEF's Public Advocacy for Voter Protection Project has been created to ensure all eligible voters, particularly underserved populations, can exercise this right."
THE LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW has a special focus on Voting Rights. Look at the list on the right side of the page for more information on things you've read about in Nygaard Notes, and other things I don't even have space for. Be sure to check out their interactive "Map of Shame: Vote Suppression Legislation by State." Click on your state and learn what's going on, and be sure to click on the "Join the Fight" link. Also check out their three-page flyer of Voter ID talking points: "The Case against Voting Photo ID Bills."
There's a group called "PROJECT VOTE" that has on its website a little section called "Focus on the Issues." If you click on that, you'll see running down the right-hand side of the page a list of issues with which everyone should be familiar. Not only will you see familiar issues like Voter ID, Felon Voting Rights, and Voter Intimidation, but you'll also see less-well-known issues like Voter Caging, "No Match, No Vote," and "Interstate Compacts." All of the issues have links to Legislative Briefs, Policy Briefs, media reports, research memos, and more. It's really kind of an amazing site. Check it out.
If you are concerned about voting rights more generally (that is, not just "Voter ID" issues") then you may wish to check out the ELECTION PROTECTION COALITION. Here's what they say about themselves: "The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Through our state of the art hotlines: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (administered by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) and 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota (administered by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund), this website, and comprehensive voter protection field programs across the country, we provide Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive voter information and advice on how they can make sure their vote is counted."
Their Election Protection 2010 Report "provides a comprehensive picture of the problems voters faced at the polls" in the last major election.
If you're specifically interested in the attack on the voting rights of YOUNG people, the nonprofit "Rock the Vote" organization has a campaign called "ROCK THE VOTE, DON'T BLOCK THE VOTE." The website is a little hard to navigate (maybe I'm too old!) but there's some good stuff here.
OTHER GREAT STUFF
THE HIP HOP ACTION COALITION has launched "a full-body artistic attack on the lie at the heart of the "Voter ID" deception." The website is HERE. Everything here is creative and razor-sharp (check out the posters!) and the video "Voter Fraud is a Serious Crime, Boy" is priceless. Also, if you haven't seen Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central explaining the nature and extent of Voter Fraud, you're in for a hilarious and poignant treat ("Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere!").
In January of this year The ARC Minnesota put out a little two-page flyer called "VOTER ID: SUPPRESSING VOTES OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES." They say it all in very few words, including these words: "Voter ID Laws Push People with Disabilities Back Into the Shadows." Check this one out.
A Wisconsin judge on March 6th issued a temporary injunction that prevents enforcement of the recently-passed Voter ID law in that state. The injunction is quite eloquent, and its summary of the discriminatory effects of "Act 23" are well worth reading. An online version of the 11-page ruling can be found HERE. A week later a different judge issued a permanent injunction blocking the state from implementing the measure.