Putting Rev. Wright on the spot

I don’t fear liberation theology. I’ve spent many Sundays in predominantly black churches. For a whole year before I moved out of Columbus back to northern Ohio, I attended Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on the Near East side of Columbus. For a whole year before leaving to teach English in South Korea, I attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin. I’ve visited a number of other predominantly black churches, too. I can assure you that black churches are definitely not all alike, though many do draw upon liberation theology when relating scripture to our day. But though a great many of them draw upon liberation theology, I would say only a very tiny percentage of the pastors teach that America invented AIDS to commit genocide against African-Americans. In fact, I’d never heard any pastor other than Wright preach that message.

And of course, Wright can preach what he wants to preach. I’m not going to urge him to be politically correct. He can decide for himself what he says. He’s protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution.

I think many pundits misunderstand liberation theology. It may be worthwhile for the news media to investigate liberation theology, because journalists, on the whole, are among the most clueless when it comes to religion.

Some pundits have taken issue with an agenda within predominantly black churches that’s very Afro-centric. These pundits try to equate this Afro-centrism with David Dukes racism, saying that if the words “black community” were taken out of the agenda and replaced with “white community,” blacks would have a problem with it.

I have a totally different interpretation of the Afro-centric agenda, a much more harmless one, from what I have absorbed while attending predominantly black churches. The Afro-centric agenda acknowledges that the black community lags behind the white community in several respects. The Afro-centric agenda serves the purpose of closing that gap. It is a pro-active approach. A self-reliant approach. A pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps approach. A Booker T. Washington approach, if you will. If the Afro-centric agenda succeeds, the black community can be a beacon to other communities. Others, who aren’t black, would do well to put many of these practices to use in their own lives, too.

If liberation theology is an evil concept, then we should eliminate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is not religious per se. But Kwanzaa does highlight principles (Umoja=unity; Kujichagulia=self-determination; Ujima=collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa=cooperative economics; Nia=purpose; Kuumba=creativity; and Imani=faith) that lend themselves to an agenda of improvement within the black community, and there are commonalities between the celebration of Kwanzaa and liberation theology. I see no harm in embracing these principles and creating an agenda around it within the black community.

Among the works I studied in my African-American literature class at Ohio State, were three slave narratives. A quarter at Ohio State is only 10 weeks long, so the professor decides what he wishes to emphasize during that 10 weeks, as there isn’t enough time to cover everything in depth. The professor decided to emphasize the earliest African-American literature, slave narratives. As you can imagine this literature described some very inhumane conduct by slave owners. After Emancipation, a share-croppers life was still filled with horrors. Life with Jim Crow was no walk in the park either.

But my African-American literature professor put it all into perspective for the class. He said that though American history was not kind to the black community, and though racism still exists in modern America, he said that the United States of America was the greatest nation on earth. He pointed out that blacks can enjoy a better quality of life and rise to greater heights in America than anywhere else on the globe. He challenged the students this way: “If you think that there is some other country better than the United States of America, then you just haven’t traveled enough.” The professor said he loved to travel, and that he had traveled to more than 60 countries on 5 continents (I think Australia and Antarctica were the two continents he hadn’t visited). But as much as he loved to travel, he was always glad that he could call America his home, and he always looked forward to returning home.

I think, really, that’s what’s unsettling about what we’re hearing from Rev. Wright. He offers such scathing criticisms of America, but hasn’t talked about the silver lining behind the cloud. Even in the slave narratives, one is struck by the positive frame of mind the writers were in. They saw the silver lining in every cloud. Rev. Wright is now retired, and he is wealthy enough to move practically anywhere on this globe that he wants to move to. Somebody needs to put Rev. Wright on the spot. Someone needs to ask him why he lives in America.

Rev. Wright . . . why do you live in America? This isn’t a question to try to demean your religion at all, this is a question about your personal preference. After all, you have the means. You can go anywhere. You don’t seem to like our nation, based on what we’ve been hearing out of your mouth. Is there some reason you’re still here? So please tell us . . . why do you live in America?

So far, I haven’t heard any journalist put that question to him. I think his response would be newsworthy. Wouldn’t you want to hear what Rev. Wright has to say about that?

Better yet, Barack Obama could finally put the rancor over Rev. Wright behind him if he were the one that publicly asked this question. Envision a huge crowd of 30,000 gathered in an arena to hear Barack Obama give one of his electrifying speeches. Imagine him taking the stage and uttering these words:

“Rev. Wright, I’m sure you’ll hear this speech, so I have a question to ask of you. I said publicly that I suppose I really didn’t know you as well as I thought I did. I just want to know one thing. Why do you live in America? You have the means to live the rest of your life anywhere you want on this planet. I want to know why you live in America. **pause** As you all know from my tax returns, which I made public, I also have the means to live wherever I want. Let me tell you why I live in America. Let me tell you why I speak of hope when I speak of America. Let me tell you of the beauty that I see in America. . . (insert powerfully inspirational patriotic speech like only Obama can deliver here).”

Like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, I give Obama permission to plagiarize the words I have just written. Senator Obama, if you give this speech, not only will you put Rev. Wright behind you, you’ll probably put the San Francisco remarks behind you, and most importantly, you’ll probably put Hillary Clinton behind you.

Now, all you bloggers in the Obama camp, forward this advice to Obama, because he needs to gain some traction with voters once more, and he needs to do it fast.

Reminders of our heritage

Loraine Ritchey, one of the first bloggers to join ranks with Scott Bakalar at the Lorain-centric Word of Mouth blog, enjoys digging up bits of history on a blog of her own. She has taken an active interest in the Black River Historical Society for many years now. This article is the first installment of a message Loraine wants to share about what we are losing out on in the port city called Lorain. This article is the second installment.  I’ve been working on an article concept tangential to what Loraine’s working on that I should have ready to post in a few days or so.

Romney skates on thin ice re: Obama

Today I listened to Sean Hannity’s radio program while he interviewed former GOP Massachusetts Governor and former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Mitt Romney was trying to weigh in on the news of Rev. Wright vis-a-vis Barack Obama.  Romney was trying to split hairs over what was religious and what was political.  He did say that religion shouldn’t enter in to the Obama candidacy equation.  OK, I’m on board with that.  He did say that we should take Obama at his word that he does not share the views of Rev. Wright.  Good, because that’s what I say, also.  So, if we take Obama at his word, why did Mitt Romney go ahead and discuss the comments of Rev. Wright?  Also, if religion shouldn’t enter the equation, why did Romney question why Obama attended the same church for 20 years?  I think Romney was trying to tiptoe carefully through the discussion, but I think he failed.  I think he skated on thin ice and fell through.  I don’t think he managed to split the hairs.  Of course, I’m clearly not in synch with Hannity on this issue, either.

Though he had suspended his campaign before Ohio voted in its primary, I cast my vote for Romney, anyway.  Can you tell I’m a little bit disappointed in Romney for not taking the high road on this?

Jennifer Brunner: A hand in the cookie jar?

Prior to the 2004 Presidential elections, the Democrat Party lined up an army of lawyers to be elections observers in full expectation that the elections would be “stolen.” They provided 3 reasons for their expectations:

  1. There was a pervasive feeling among Democrats that the 2000 Presidential election was stolen in favor of Republican George W. Bush, to the detriment of Democrat Al Gore, in the state of Florida. Polling in 2004 indicated a tight Presidential race in Ohio, thus pundits, in advance of the election, were referring to Ohio as being the “Florida of 2004.”
  2. Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was a key player in the Bush campaign in Ohio. Democrats claimed that it was a conflict of interest for the Secretary of State to oversee elections in which he was so prominently involved in the Bush campaign. Some were suggesting that elections oversight needed to be handled by a non-partisan panel of appointees, and that the Ohio Constitution should be amended accordingly.
  3. The state, and in reality, virtually all states, were struggling to comply with HAVA (Help America Vote Act–enacted by Congress in the wake of confusion over the 2000 Florida recount) legislation, which involved a vetting process of new voting machines, and there was still a debate raging over whether machines were 100% reliable and tamper proof. One of the machines that Secretary of State Ken Blackwell approved for use in Ohio’s 88 counties was a touch-screen machine manufactured by Diebold, an Ohio-based company. Diebold’s founder personally endorsed George W. Bush, which heightened suspicion about the machines.

The Republicans responded to the Democrats by lining up lawyers for their own army of observers.

On election night, Republican incumbent President George W. Bush beat Democrat challenger John Kerry by a much wider margin in Ohio than the 2000 Bush-Gore contest in Florida, even though Cuyahoga County, the biggest treasure trove of Democrat votes in the state, kept their polls open longer than all the rest of the counties by court order from a Bill Clinton-appointed federal judge. Ohio failed to be the Florida of 2004. John Kerry conceded the state.

That didn’t stop some far-left wackos from living in a state of denial about the election outcomes. Perhaps the most over-the-top critic lashing out with the most outrageous claims was Bob Fitrakis, who would become the Green Party nominee for Governor just two years later. Since the 2004 elections, Fitrakis has not ceased in decrying those elections as stolen. He still points to Diebold voting machines as the number one culprit, pointing to an experiment that demonstrated how a Diebold machine could be tampered with. What Fitrakis fails to acknowledge was that, in the experiment, the machine did show evidence of being tampered with. There were absolutely no reports of machines showing evidence of being tampered with in the wake of the 2004 elections.

Other criticisms were voter suppression, especially at polling locations that experienced long waiting lines; and improper instructions about provisional ballots, including allegations that too many voters were directed to vote provisionally that should have been able to cast a regular vote, and about disallowing too many of the provisional ballots, and even destroying some disallowed provisional ballots to cover up evidence of unethical activity regarding provisional ballots.

Meanwhile, bipartisan Boards of Election in a number of counties had identified individuals who had engaged in voter fraud. It seemed that Secretary of State Ken Blackwell made a decision he deemed politically expedient when he directed those county boards not seek prosecution of those individuals. Apparently, it was expected that the howls of voter suppression would have grown even louder had the prosecutions gone forward. The most common voting fraud charge was an individual voting in more than one location, usually by voting absentee at a permanent address, but voting in person at a temporary address.

As an Oberlin resident in 2004, I had to wait to vote in one of those very long lines. Most of those in line were Oberlin College students, who, in most elections, don’t bother to vote, but since they all turned out in 2004, the number of voting machines at the precinct weren’t exactly adequate for the huge turnout. I have to point out, though, that the Board of Elections in each county is a bi-partisan board, so the allocation of voting machines is a joint decision of both Democrats and Republicans, so, where measures were inadequate, both parties are responsible, so I reject the notion that long lines were the result of a Republican plot.

Enter Jennifer Brunner, elected 2006 as the new Secretary of State in Ohio. She has catered to the left-wing zanies charging Republicans with vote-stealing conspiracies that fail to acknowledge the bi-partisan structure of the Board of Elections in every single one of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Far from introducing bold new measures to ensure the integrity of the vote by preventing fraud perpetrated by individual voters, Brunner’s office filed an amicus brief on the side of refusing to establish voter identification by way of photo ID requirements introduced in Indiana in a suit that came before the U.S. Supreme Court. While catering to left-wing voter concerns, Brunner has failed to act on a voter concern repeatedly raised by those on the right. Such partiality is not what is expected in a Secretary of State, especially one who campaigned on impartiality by pointing to her past service as a judge, which is yet another elected position of which impartiality is expected. With such partiality in evidence as Secretary of State, one has to question whether her service as a judge was impartial or not.

Besides her power grab of Cuyahoga County, the state’s gold mine of Democrat votes, by way of replacing an entire Board of Elections officers along with the director and deputy director, prior to the March primaries in 2008, she decreed that Cuyahoga County abandon touch-screen voting on Diebold machines. Instead, all voting would be conducted on paper ballots. One can expect that the November 2008 elections in Cuyahoga County will also be conducted by using paper ballots.

For my own views on the use of a touch-screen Diebold versus the use of optical scanners, I would like to reference my own eyewitness account of automatic recounts (contests with very narrow vote margins between victor and loser) conducted on December 5, 2007 in Lorain County. Last November, my ex-wife very narrowly lost a re-election bid to the Oberlin Board of Education. Board of Education races are non-partisan affairs, but I will divulge that my ex is a Democrat. She invited me to be an observer of the recount on her behalf.

I signed a roster indicating my attendance as an observer of the recount. Observers of two other races were also present, but there were a total of six races that were subject to automatic recount. In addition to the observers for three races, there were two additional visiting observers, one was a representative of Jennifer Brunner’s office, and the other was a representative of Diebold. The presence of the Diebold representative whenever votes are tabulated is a stipulation that the Lorain County Board of Elections included in the service agreement with Diebold when the voting machines were purchased, thus Diebold is able to respond immediately to any technical concern arising from the voting machines.

In addition to the touch-screen machines, Lorain County also has optical scanners for the paper ballots used by absentee voters and provisional voters.

The Director of the Lorain County Board of Elections, Jose Candelario, a Democrat and also an expert on computer data systems (his expertise is what landed him the Director job ahead of many other applicants), took us on a tour of the facility and reviewed the safeguard procedures used in carrying out an election and in carrying out a recount.

I was amazed at the tight security in place at the office. The Board of Elections office in Lorain County is located in a building that was remodeled, that used to be a savings and loan office. Access to the computers requires a password, half of which only the Democrat employees know and half of which only the Republican employees know, so it takes two persons, one from each party, to access the computers. The Diebold machines are stored in a room that used to be the vault of the savings and loan, so the walls and the door are virtually impregnable. Access to the vault is only granted by unlocking the door using swipes of two employee identification cards, one Republican and one Democrat, thus one political party cannot gain entry without the other. Logging on to the Diebold machines themselves, also requires a Democrat and a Republican, each supplying their half of the password to gain access. We all watched as a Democrat and a Republican tested a couple of Diebold machines, to check their ability to provide an accurate vote count. First, the machine was zeroed out (kind of like calibrating a scale to read zero when nothing is being weighed on it), then votes were entered, as if a mini mock election were taking place. The final tabulations were compared with the actual entries as keyed in by the employees (they matched) and the machines were zeroed out again. Another pair of employees (one Democrat and one Republican) were accessing the paper trail of the sample precincts that would be involved in the recount. Any discrepancy between the recount and the election night results would trigger more recounting, up to a total recount of the entire electorate that were eligible to cast a ballot in the race in question. The paper trail on the Diebold machines is automatically stored on a cash-register like paper roll enclosed in a cannister already sealed with tamper-proof tape. Thus, the paper trail is secured without the aid of human hands. Before opening any of the cannisters for the manual recount, each cannister, with its security tape, was inspected by the two-person (D & R) employee team. With the cannisters before them, the recount began. We observers saw the change in the security tape that showed the cannister was being opened for the first time. The two person team scrolled through the ballots, tallying the votes as they were read from the paper trail. The counts matched exactly the vote totals of the machine-cast ballots on election night.

We also observed the handling of the paper ballots, cast by absentee and provisional voters, along with their recount. There was no representative on hand from the manufacturer of the optical scanners. These ballots were stored in envelopes that were kept in a cage. Provisional ballots that weren’t permitted to be counted were also in the cage, in their original, unsealed envelopes. Two padlocks secured the steel cage that rolled on wheels. One padlock had to be opened with the Republican key and the other padlock had to be opened with the Democrat key. Before sending the paper ballots through the optical scan machines, each sheet of paper was counted to see that it matched the total number of ballots. The votes on the paper ballots were recounted both by the optical scanners, and manually by the two-employee (D & R) team. Both recount totals matched each other and also matched the official totals that were previously certified to the Secretary of State’s office.

The Diebold observer had nothing to do but watch, as there were no problems. Apparently, the Diebold representative job is a cakewalk, as the Lorain County Board of Elections hadn’t experienced problems with the machines. In fact, Jose Candelario expressed his complete confidence in the precision and accuracy of the machines. He had established procedures that were strictly followed by the employees that he said would guarantee the integrity of the vote every time. The representative from the Secretary of State’s office made no attempt to contradict the statements of Director in this regard.

My own observation leads me to draw this conclusion: If a pair of employees, one Democrat and one Republican, were in cahoots with each other to fix the vote without leaving any incriminating evidence, it would have to be done with the optical scan ballots. For one thing, the paper ballots require much more handling by human beings, with many more steps involved, than the touch screen balloting. The cage containing the paper ballots was not as secure as the vault with the touch screen equipment. If a D & R team wished to omit ballots or stuff the ballot box or switch out real ballots for falsified ballots, it would have to be done with the paper balloting system. Cuyahoga County, which has had inexcusable problems following procedures in many past elections, where one might be the most suspicious of a D & R team of being in cahoots, not only was forced to vote on paper ballots by Jennifer Brunner, but was also required to transport those ballots to a central location for tabulation by the optical scanners. Had the votes been tallied at the precincts, elections observers have the potential to red flag any shenanigans. Having ballots transported creates one more vulnerability to a lapse of security.

The primary elections in Cuyahoga County were relatively problem free, giving a green light to use the same system in November, when Democrats and Republicans will be opposing each other. With Jennifer Brunner’s micromanagement of elections in Cuyahoga County (I reiterate, the state’s treasure trove of Democrat votes), with her partiality in question, with the Presidency in the balance, and the relative vulnerability of using paper ballots being sent to a central location (Will precinct-level tabulations be in place on time for November?), and a track record of strange goings on in prior Cuyahoga County elections, one has to wonder whether Jennifer Brunner has her hand in the cookie jar.