I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
Well Newshoggers has closed it's doors so Middle Earth Journal is active once again.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day -- Long Reads to Pass the Time

The next several hours will seem much longer today than usual as we all await the results of the 2012 elections. I have made no secret of the fact that as a Yellow Dog Democrat and Sixties Liberal I am an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama and look forward to his re-election. But I am posting here a few "long reads" that I hope are not too partisan for anyone wanting to get lost in some serious reading, blocking out the world of electoral politics for a while.


The Origins of Secret Balloting in America – November 4, 2012
Those of us who have studied history already know a string of factoids about voting in the past but this list of reminders from Edward O'Donnell is a quick synopsis. Everybody knows that slaves and women didn't vote and it's easy to imagine that all that was ancient history. As a veteran of the civil rights movement I have been keenly aware that the Emancipation Proclamation certainly did not result in political freedom and the right to vote was still not on the list of correctives in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Consequently it was necessary to have the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Interested readers can do your own homework about that.) But I was reminded a couple months ago that women also did not vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was not ratified until 1920, less than a lifetime for anyone just past ninety today. My mother was still a child at the time and her mother had not been able to vote until well into her adult years.

My guess is that most people think that the secret ballot is as old as voting itself and every bit as sacred. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voting in colonial times was mainly by voice vote or show of hands. And later when paper ballots were put to use they were not only clearly identifiable separately by party, they were dropped ceremoniously into glass containers for all to see, a proud public demonstration of the voter who put them there.
Voting remained public and transparent in the nineteenth century even as more and more communities began to use paper ballots. The turn to paper ballots was made necessary by population growth (especially in cities) and the elimination of property requirements for voting that opened up voting to nearly all while males by 1830. This accompanying painting by George Caleb Bingham, however, makes it clear that paper balloting was anything but private. In Bingham’s 1852 scene a voter, having made his way through a gauntlet of men trying to influence his vote, hands his ballot to a public official. But who he voted for is plain for all to see because the ballot he turned in had been handed to him moments earlier by a candidate or party operative (if you look closely, you will notice that the man behind him wearing the top hat is handing out ballots). Often these ballots were distinguished from one another by color, making it extremely easy to see how a person voted. Official ballots printed and distributed by the government only became the norm in the early 20th century—at the very same time and for the very same reasons that secret balloting took hold.
      Just how transparent voting was in the nineteenth century is exemplified in the wide adoption of the glass globe “ballot box” in the second half of the nineteenth century. So popular was this glass ballot box, it was used by political cartoonists as a symbol of democracy.
The secret ballot we cherish (also called the Australian ballot) did not appear until the end of the Nineteenth Century.

The remaining three readings are about matters military, a favorite subject for elected officials and civilians as well as those in uniform  As someone drafted in 1965 as a conscientious objector, many would consider my views quaint to the edge of crazy, but during my lifetime I have come full circle in my opinions about wars, soldiers and what is carelessly called "defense" (a sector of the economy having far more to do with jobs and recycling and redistributing tax dollars into the private sector than protecting the country from foreign aggressors. See "military-industrial complex" for details.) For one thing, I have decided that the so-called volunteer military is for many an escape from unemployment or lack of education or upward social mobility. As one who hated the idea of being conscripted in my youth I have decided that universal national service of come sort (a fairly world-wide practice), with military service as the principle driver, would be a civilized step in the right direction. All countries need a professional military class charged with the usual responsibilities, career professionals responsible for keeping systems working.  But we do not need a professional warrior class made up of the cream of our youth doing jobs requiring little more than following orders, looking good and performing work that in the private sector would be a path to civilian success but without the chance of getting killed or injured for life. Military service should be honored and respected as a disagreeable civic responsibility (think jury duty writ very long and large) not a path to glory.

The Permanent Militarization of America
This NY Times editorial by Aaron O'Connell spells out how far down the road toward Oceania America has traveled. (No, he didn't say that. That's from my own place in the peanut gallery.)
The fact that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are calling for increases to the defense budget (in the latter case, above what the military has asked for) is further proof that the military is the true “third rail” of American politics. In this strange universe where those without military credentials can’t endorse defense cuts, it took a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, to make the obvious point that the nation’s ballooning debt was the biggest threat to national security.
Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.
Here is another link I recalled while putting together this post.
Child Abuse by Bernard Avishai
This short piece from 2009 reflects on Israel's Defense Force.

The Politics of Fear
This by Mark Danner from the NY Book Reviewis over four thousand words long.
He begins with a reference to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and how it has served to keep alive a "politics of fear" through decades of relative peace. He concludes with a description of how President Obama has basically thwarted his critics in much the same way that Harry Truman did, by outdoing those who might otherwise accuse him of being weak in military matters.
Though Obama’s policies in the Middle East, after the grand rhetorical gestures at the start of his term, have been largely improvisational and opportunistic—and though those policies are now dangerously “unraveling”—to replace them Romney can offer only a longing for an imagined past in which aircraft carriers and the “leadership” they convey could keep the old familiar order, autocratic, sclerotic, predictable, firmly in place. Whatever else one can say about today’s Middle East, that order is largely gone. In response to the roiling political struggles that have overtaken it, we hear only a pale conjuring of fear, and behind that only silence.
Against this inarticulate longing stands President Obama and his ferocious prosecution of the war on terror. If the politics of fear has lost its magic for the Republican right it is not least because its methods have been co-opted by the Democrat in the White House, who has been relentless in hunting down terrorists, and those who may look like terrorists, and killing them by the thousands. No one can criticize him for investigating the CIA for torture, for he has conducted no such investigation. No one can attack him for abandoning President Bush’s indefinite detention policy because he has, in the case of the prisoners who “can neither be tried nor released,” regularized and legalized it. And no one can denounce him for closing Guantánamo because Guantánamo has not been closed.
Iran and the bomb: The legal standards of the IAEA
This final link is a heavy-duty, hard core, detailed examination of the underlying details of Iran's nuclear program and all which that entails. Three contributors -- Christopher Ford, Andreas Persbo, and Daniel Joyner -- take part in a round-table discussion of that opaque, complicated issue.
In 1967 -- ten years after the United States and Iran signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement as part of America's Atoms for Peace program -- Iran debuted its first nuclear facility in Tehran, a 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor, supplied by the United States and fueled by highly enriched uranium. Today, 45 years later, the country's nuclear program is no longer so simple. As international concerns grow over Iran's nuclear ambitions, so, too, do the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections in Iran. But what are the standards that the IAEA uses to investigate and assess Iran's compliance with its safeguards agreements, and are they the legally correct standards?
Next time you hear a politician, domestic or foreign, rattling on about the threat of Iran and it's nuclear ambitions, try to recall whatever may stick in your memory from at least scanning this elaborate and detailed examination of the problem by three totally well-informed individuals. This is from near the end of the third section by Persbo.
....Iran joined the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty PDF (NPT) on February 2, 1970. By ratifying the treaty, Iran undertook not to "manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or explosive devices" (Article II). It also pledged to sign-up to safeguards "with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices" (Article III.1). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged with the administration of safeguards under the treaty. A Safeguards Agreement is a separate, legally binding contract between the IAEA and the state. Hence, there are situations when a state can be in compliance with the UN treaty, but not with its Safeguards Agreement. In the past, Iran has not been compliant with its agreement... whereas its compliance with the NPT has not been established.
     Though the process is outlined in the Safeguards Agreement, the easiest way to explain the safeguards system is to paraphrase Hans Blix. The IAEA is a bit like the taxman, investigating annual tax returns. The taxman checks that the income declaration is correct, but may, if the submitter is unlucky, also look into whether everything is complete. The IAEA, in a similar way, confirms that the material balances in the country are as declared, but it also makes an assessment on whether it seems complete.
    Iran has a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement PDF (CSA) with the IAEA. The agreement is called "comprehensive" because it covers "all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within [Iran's] territory, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere" (Article 1). In terms of verification, the IAEA has the "right and the obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied" on this material "for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices" (Article 2). These two articles of law need to be fully digested and cannot be subject to a quick read.

That should be enough to keep anyone busy for a few hours. 
Happy reading.
There will not be a test.

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