Fragile!

80%+                                                                                15%             1-5%

2015-09-09 17.23.53

Human civilization is, when you look closely, extremely fragile. The above graphic represents all of humanity divided into three groups. This graphic is not a representation of wealth. The correlation between the knowledge and skills depicted here and wealth is not strong.

The smallest circle on the right represents the portion of humanity that is highly trained, knowledgeable and substantially understands the science, technology and ideas defining, underlying, and driving civilization. These are the scientists, thinkers, and others who imagine, create, and transform their ideas into reality.

The second group representing about 15% is the portion of humanity who possess knowledge and understanding of the ideas and creations of the first group in general ways and are key in helping keep everything working. This group is the bulk of the educated elite in society, those responsible for providing the organizational and support skills vital to keeping everything working and growing. They understand the ideas and innovations of the first group and there implications, and are key in the smooth functioning and advancing of human civilization.

The 80% of humanity in the third group represent the muscle of society that provides the labor and support to create the wealth we all take for granted and benefit. But while this group is vital to the stability of society, they are, on the whole, less educated and have little or no understanding of the science and ideas that underlie the comforts, the technology, and virtually everything they take for granted and depend upon for making all our lives comfortable. This statement is not intended to be insulting or demeaning, merely a reality.

The vast majority that comprise this group, represent most of us. We know how to turn something on or off. We know how to use the device or tool, but have little understanding how or why it works or how to build one. Most of us really don’t care, we only want it to perform the task and do the job it is designed to do and we want done. We can change the battery and if it fails we can buy a new one, but beyond that we are virtually helpless.

The darker side of this reality is most of us go about our lives doing the work and enjoying the use of the technology and tools available to us while holding on to the narrow beliefs, superstitions and ignorance that have been passed down to us.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out if something happens to the 5% who think and create, our civilization is in deep trouble. In fact we have history to help us understand what will happen. We need look only to the fall of Rome and the nearly 1000 years of ignorance and darkness that followed.

In 537-538 A.D. Rome was under siege by an Ostrogoth army, but Rome was too large for the Goths to encircle completely so they blockaded the city’s entrances to starve them out and then blocked the aqueducts that provided Rome’s water. Without water the city couldn’t support its large population of almost a million people. Since no one remained with the skills necessary to repair these aqueducts once the siege was lifted, the people had no choice but to abandon the city. Rome’s population quickly dwindled to around 10,000.

In the past few months we have witnessed ISIS destroying the irreplaceable artifacts and archaeological treasures of Syria and Iraq. Less than two years ago a fanatical group gained control of Timbuktu and set its treasured library filled with priceless manuscripts ablaze. The difference between the space age and the Stone Age is a slim and very vulnerable veneer of knowledge and understanding of relatively few people. It illustrates rather dramatically our failure to transmit our values; knowledge and understanding to the widest possible audience in our country and to the rest of humanity occupying this planet we share. Each day we live on hope-the hope an asteroid or comet won’t hit the earth, the hope a pandemic of some kind won’t wipe out most humanity, doing to us what Europeans did to Native Americans when they arrived in the Americas 500 years ago. We live in denial of the evidence our science has provided. We live in denial of the ideals and values that the tests of time and human experience have provided us.

Human culture and civilization is extremely fragile and held together with not much more than a wish and a hope, but we have it within our means to protect, copy, duplicate and protect all we have learned and thereby create an insurance policy against planetary catastrophe whatever form it might take. We now have the knowledge, skills, expertise, devices and means to make this a reality. The digitization of knowledge is already underway. Just as humanity has built seed banks in various places on the earth, we can create multiple depositories of human knowledge and achievement. We owe this to our predecessors and our descendants. This is one project that is a benefit to all human beings and all life on this earth we call home.

_________________________

Graphic: author’s own.

The Gathering Darkness

Do you remember the popular late 70s early 80s TV series –The Six Million Dollar Man staring Lee Majors that opened with the words “We can remake him. We can make him better?” The premise was the Majors character had been injured beyond recognition, but with the aid of technology could be remade into a stronger more powerful version of himself.

This was science fiction and we liked it. It allowed us to lose ourselves in a fanciful “what if.” But we should have paid more attention and given more thought to where this new technology was leading us. While the idea expressed in the opening of the show, “We can remake him” applied to a man, what we missed was what corporate America was already beginning to recognize was possible for remaking not only our society, but remaking us. What followed was the unleashing of an avalanche of technology and a Tsunami of information that has overwhelmed, buried and threatens to drown us in details while a few oligarchs and corporatists twist the meaning of America into something they control and manipulate for their own ends and to satisfy their own greed.

In the United States the top 1% control 42% of the wealth. The top 5% control 69% of the wealth; the top 10% control 80%, and the top 20% control 93% of America’s wealth. The ratio of CEO pay to the average worker in the U.S. is at an unbelievable 475:1! CEO compensation in no other nation on the planet is remotely close to the U.S. Compared to some of our biggest competitors (Japan 11:1, Germany 12:1, Canada 20:1, Britain 22:1) the scale is mind-boggling. It is no wonder then our two so-called political parties together represent only the top 20%. In the presidential election campaign in 2012 neither party bothered to more than mention the plight of working class America. They mentioned the middle class occasionally, but neither paid attention to the 80% of us who make the lives of wealth and luxury enjoyed by so few possible through our work and consumption.

Financial Wealth Distribution, 2007

The poor have little income and so don’t figure into the calculus of our electoral system other than the necessity of trying to manipulate their voting habits on Election Day. Poor and minority voters are being suppressed and denied their right to vote. Control of the electoral process begins with control over who votes. Our country is being made over. Our belief systems are being slowly altered and twisted toward acceptance of the new order. We are being homogenized and are expected to conform. We can be different as long as we all fit in. The principal propaganda organs, the corporate news, are selective in their coverage of events. Presentation is carefully managed to give us the approved picture. Managed news is our new reality. No one “thinks” until the thought shapers on talk radio and TV give their blessing to the new orthodoxy. The manufacture of consent that began on Madison Avenue during World War I has fully matured. We think what we are told to think, and we do what we are told.

Those in the new ruling class use the tried and true methods of every past tyranny to perfection. Fear is the principle weapon. It is easy. It is convenient, and it is effective. We live our lives under constant media bombardment and assault telling us to be afraid of anything or anyone different, the weather, the sky, our shadows, and ourselves. It works. We are.

*Graph: Distribution of Financial Wealth in the U.S. 2007 appearing in Inequality of wealth and income helped cause our current economic problems by Nancy Abrams & Joel Primack, Sept. 11, 2011. blog,sfgate.com

 

Terrorist or jus’ havin’ fun – It’s all a matter of perspective

A few days following the 4th of July 2013 Bill O’Malley piloted his dad’s pontoon on a popular Northern Indiana lake while his kids along with all the grandkids went tubing. When one child fell off Bill circled around with the pontoon to pick him up. As he brought the boat around and into position he spied a white ball bobbing on the water. When he retrieved it he discovered it wasn’t a ball at all, but a homemade explosive. A plastic ball 6-8” in circumference had been cut in half, filled with gunpowder or TNT, heat sealed together and then taped. It had a hole drilled and a wick inserted in the top. Apparently the perpetrator(s) had lit the device and thrown it in the lake during or after the recently held holiday fireworks display, but it malfunctioned or the water extinguished it, and they left it to float on the busy lake filled with families and children during the biggest and busiest holiday of the summer.

Bill brought the device back and showed it to his dad. Recognizing what it was and the possible danger it represented they decided it best to put it someplace safe until after the busy weekend and everyone had gone home before placing it in the garbage. Bill put the device high above a window in the boathouse located beneath the large deck that faces the lake at the front of their cottage. Besides being the storage for boat motors and equipment it also has a refrigerator for drinks, snacks and other things that kept children and adults going in and out all weekend.

By Monday morning everyone had gone home and Bill’s dad, George, forgot about the device, and was in the garage nearby repairing a motor. At the same moment his wife, Roxie, was in the cottage working on a computer when an explosion knocked her off her chair. Running down the steps and to the back of the house Roxie didn’t see George and assumed he had been in the boathouse when the explosion occurred. In a panic she frantically yelled for neighbors to call 9-1-1.

The O’Malley’s boathouse has doors at both ends. Luckily those doors at that moment were open allowing the explosion to vent outward. Still it was powerful enough to blow one wall out including the door and sending fascia boards, vinyl siding and other debris almost 100 feet into the neighbors yard. Fortunately the blast did not cause a fire and since it vented out, it didn’t cause the three or more 5-gallon petro cans stored in the boathouse to ignite and explode with it. More importantly, there were no children playing outside.

It took the all-volunteer emergency services fire and EMS 20 minutes to answer the call, coming from a nearby lake community a few miles away. Being volunteers and amateurs they had no expertise in these matters, couldn’t determine a source and didn’t stick around to conduct an investigation.

After they left George finally remembered the device that Bill had put above the window for safekeeping. That turned out to be the source of the explosion. He and Roxie then went carefully over the interior of the boathouse (they had to clean up the debris) and found several pieces of what had been the plastic ball that contained the explosives.

George presumes this was a homemade fireworks device that someone carelessly left in the lake after it failed to explode. He is more generous than I am. Such a device raises a number of serious questions concerning who, what, where, when and why? Was this a homemade fireworks or a prototype? This area is riddled with people with extreme views. Militia ideas and extremist views are popular in this part of rural Indiana. For whatever reason the incident was never, to my knowledge, reported to any local police agency. The attitude and belief is that whoever the responsible individuals were, they were just some guys trying to have a bit of fun.

The ease in being able to make such a device suggests all the propaganda we are fed by government and media about “terrorism” is just that. Propaganda. It’s a false flag. We say we are worried about terrorists and see government intrude in every area of our lives, shred the Bill of Rights, spy on everything we do and yet we make no move to remove an obvious and openly available source for acquiring explosives for building weapons-FIREWORKS!

Do you recall the Boston Marathon bombings and how the Tsarnaev brothers bought the most powerful fireworks they could find to drain the gunpowder to make their pressure cooker bombs? They accomplished their goal with ease and without question or raising any suspicion what so ever. What are we thinking? Who are we kidding?

Anti-Vaxxers: a story

Today I did something I shouldn’t have to do. I had the first of two MMR shots. For those who do not know or remember, MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella. It’s a vaccination routinely given to all children after they reach 15 months age, or at least it was until the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement. Now some parents have come to believe vaccinations are dangerous, potentially harmful, cause autism and therefore choose not to vaccinate.

I appreciate these parents position although I believe them misguided and in denial of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. But my purpose here is to go beyond this point to tell a bit of a story.

Dolores was a 10-year-old elementary student in early January 1924 when she came home from school sporting sniffles and a bit of a cough. Her parents thought it was no more than a cold and paid no more attention, and her symptoms never became anything more severe.

Coming home from school Dolores joined in play, as she was fond of doing, with Warren, her 3 year-old brother. But this was no ordinary sniffle. Unknown to her or her parents, she was infected with a lethal bacterium known as diphtheria. Soon her brother was infected as was her older sister and the family was quarantined with notices nailed to the front door forbidding anyone from entering or leaving. All her parents could do was treat and comfort their children as best they could, and pray, and hope. The disease progressed rapidly, Warren died and her sister Fern was expected to join him, but at the last minute recovered. Throughout, Dolores never exhibited more than a slight cough and sniffles. She remembers that when Warren died the casket was displayed in the front window so it could be viewed from outside by caring friends and family. That is the way things were done in the early 1920s. Vaccines were few, scarce, and virtually unaffordable for most working families.

These events left a deep scar on Dolores that was torn open in 1938 when she learned her four-year-old son, Jackie, had spinal meningitis. There was little doctors could do for such a dreadful disease in Wabash, Indiana so they rushed him to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne where the prognosis wasn’t much better. Jackie spent the next several weeks in the hospital; his prospects for recovery or even survival were slim. He was paralyzed from the waist down and doctors thought that would be permanent if he survived.

Grim as the news was Dolores believed in miracles. Against all odds Jackie experienced a full recovery with a return of feeling to his extremities and use of his legs. Jackie returned home and the next several months were happy times filled with gratitude, thanks, and relief all had ended well.

But the meningitis left Jackie severely weakened and susceptible. He seemed normal and was enjoying his return to being like any other five-year-old boy when he jumped off a porch while playing and hurt his back. It seemed insignificant until the pain persisted and seemed to intensify. He was taken to the doctor and Dolores and her husband were informed their son had polio. Soon Jackie was again paralyzed from the waist down and back in Lutheran Hospital. This time there was no miracle. He never recovered the use of his legs and over the next several months his health continued to deteriorate until he finally gave up his fight. Dolores again felt the pain of a close personal loss caused by an enemy she couldn’t see or comprehend.

Dolores is my mother.

Years later in 1951 when I was in first grade one of my classmates, Tommy, was diagnosed with polio and missed most of the school year. I remember our class visiting him and how shocked I was to see him caged in an iron lung that literally breathed for him. I remember seeing pictures and on television countless children all in iron lungs, and thinking how dreadful and awful it would be to be trapped in that contraption and lie on your back, seeing the world around you through a small mirror placed above your head.

The anti-vaxxer movement has to be seen in context of the anti-science, anti-intellectual, and generally anti-authority time in which we find ourselves. But I question and doubt whether those opposed to vaccinations have any real idea of what kind of suffering-physically, mentally, or otherwise their actions and behavior imposes on others. They apparently think only of “their” rights without regard to the rights of others, particularly their own children, and fail to understand that “your” rights do not and cannot be allowed to impinge upon my or anyone else’s rights. The interests of the community weigh heavily in such matters.

The anti-vaxxers are devoid of such fears as the memory of polio evoked in Dolores that she inadvertently revealed by cautioning me in my activities at the start and during every summer of my childhood.

There was a great collective sigh of relief when Jonas Salk announced the development of a vaccine for polio. It was on TV, in newspapers, and the top topic of discussion everywhere. Jonas Salk could have made a fortune, but he chose instead to give the vaccine away. I remember receiving the polio shot and then the booster shot FREE when I was in junior high school in 1957. It was a major event. The whole school was immunized at the same time.

The Polio germ cannot exist for long in the environment and must continually be passed from host to host so eradication of the disease, like smallpox, is possible, and nearly reality in 2015.

Earlier this week I asked my 101 year-old mother if I had had the measles. She looked at me for a moment and said, “Your brother had them, but you never did.” So I asked my doctor for advice and today I took time to go get a MMR shot. While that isn’t a big deal in itself, it does represent, in my opinion, frivolous and selfish behavior by a few that have made this necessary for many others. I don’t mind getting the shot, but what I do mind are those on both sides of the political spectrum who by their refusal to have their own children vaccinated have imposed a potential peril on ours. The reasoning of the anti-vaxxer movement, whether generated by fears of autism, alleged religious grounds, or other reasons, doesn’t matter in comparison to the suffering their selfishness places on others.

Incident on a summer evening

In the summer of 1973 I had finished work on a graduate degree in history at Ball State University, and my wife Marsi and I were back in Fort Wayne, IN where she was a teacher. I had taken a job as a waiter (server) at a local seafood restaurant while we tried to figure out whether I was going on to pursue my doctorate, find a teaching position, or do something else.

We rented an upstairs apartment in a home owned by dear friends in an historic neighborhood next to the Maumee River. In addition, we had recently taken over care of “Scottie” my wife’s beloved Wire Hair Fox Terrier and kept him penned in the kitchen when we were out. On this particular evening Marsi was out when I returned, and all the lights in the apartment were off. Illumination was provided by two 150-watt floodlights mounted at the top of the stairs above the back door that not only lit up the backyard but also put a blinding glare in your eyes as you climbed the stairs to the apartment.

Coming home I did what I always did, I opened the door, but instead of flipping on the kitchen light I walked toward the hallway, forgetting the barrier we had placed to keep the dog penned. Naturally I tripped over the obstruction and fell. I knew my neighbor downstairs would hear the commotion so I tried to speak as loud as I could to explain what had happened. I then turned on lights and went about my routine as if nothing had happened.

It was a warm summer evening so I left the backdoor open. Our friends had enclosed and created a screened porch during their tenure and we spent much of our time on warm summer evenings there surrounded by a multitude of hanging plants.

A bit later I heard the thumping of feet of someone hurriedly climbing up the steps so I quickly went to the porch. The screened door was hooked so no one could walk in and I arrived the same time as my neighbor from below accompanied by a police officer.

The officer, looking straight into the bright spotlights could only see a black outline of my body the way a performer on stage is blinded by the stage lights from seeing the audience in front of him. My sudden appearance caught both of them a bit off guard and fortunately I spoke first asking if there was a problem, which was a good thing because the officer reflexively reached for his weapon. I explained what had happened and apologized for the noise, and my neighbor explained that hearing me fall he thought there was a burglar and had called the police.

Looking back it is easy to see how this incident could have ended with tragic consequences for all involved. Everything is a matter of circumstances, me tripping over the makeshift barricade, my neighbor assuming there was a burglar and calling the police, the back light shinning down the stairs, which blinded and prevented the police officer from seeing me clearly standing in the doorway and whether or not I constituted a threat.

That incident occurred in 1973. If it had occurred today there is every possibility I would have become a tragic casualty in a cascade of unlikely circumstances. Why? Because we live in a different society where everybody is assumed to be armed and dangerous leaving little room or time for law enforcement, or any of us, to make these kinds of decisions. We have allowed our thinking to become warped and twisted believing in a false need to arm ourselves for war and have created an atmosphere with a kill or be killed mentality that can only poison us all.

Police State Slowly Emerges From the Shadows

I read the title of the article this morning in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (23 Feb 2015), “Shadowy police spy devices stir fears for liberty” by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, describing a secret device that in some way simulates a cell phone tower and allows the police, or whomever has the device, to gather information not just about the potential perpetrator of a crime or other illegal activity, but anyone else in range of the device’s information gathering capabilities.

The device is so secret that the FBI has placed a gag order on discussing it on the grounds that such revelations would compromise its effectiveness. The device, dubbed “StingRay,” is a box about the size of a small suitcase, according to Nakashima. For added flexibility, there is also a hand-held version.

What the device does is simulate a cellphone tower and makes possible for those controlling it to extract signals from not just a particular phone, but also all mobile phones within range, including potentially hundreds of law-abiding innocent citizens going about trying to live their lives without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

This is a clear example of what happened to America once we started down the slippery post 9-11 slope driven by our fears. Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “He who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither” may seem out-of-date to some in our technologically driven time, but believing that only illustrates how pervasive our collective ignorance of our own ideals and institutions is.

The truth is that once the federal government in the guise of the FBI, NSA, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and others started opening the door to make illicit tools such as “StingRay” available to local law enforcement we should have been able to see that more harm would be caused than good. It is an iron law of bureaucratic behavior that such enhanced capabilities provided to the myriad number and variety of local and state law enforcement agencies throws the door wide open to misuse and abuse on scales we can’t currently imagine. Human behavior is predictable.

Is this not what James Madison and other of our founders took so many pains to guard us against? Does this not speak to the very core of what “limited government” truly means? Our founders were far more insightful and aware of the dangers of government at all levels not to have realized the necessity of keeping the beast in chains.

Now we have let loose the beast and there is no way short of great catastrophe of putting it back. It’s ironic how a few men living in caves and relying on horses for transport in a remote backwater of the planet whose great desire was to turn the world back to the seventh century accomplished what 50 years of cold war with the Soviet Union failed to do. In almost a heartbeat we gave away our most cherished rights and freedoms for the illusion of security. Who would have thought it would be so easy?

When we created this government 239 years ago, it was created to be our (the American people) agent, not our master and definitely not our jailer. I don’t know how we put the beast back in its cage, but to do nothing only insures soon we will be put in one of our own.

Half the Planet

 

 

If you draw a circle around China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Japan you have defined where about 3.8 billion of the Earth’s 7.2 billion people live. This amounts to almost 53% of the human race living in an area smaller than the United States and Canada combined. Obviously this fact has momentous implications for not only us but the rest of our world as well.

China and the Far East was the most advanced part of our planet for many centuries prior to the rise of Europe. China, Korea and Japan possessed weaponry far in advance of anything in Europe. In fact, China was on the cusp of launching the industrial revolution 500 years ahead of Europe, but instead, it turned inward, stopped contact with foreigners, and stopped innovating because they decided they represented perfection and nothing but crude barbarians existed beyond their borders and shores. It has taken more than a hundred years to awaken the giant and get it back on its feet. Now China is poised to assume a leading position of mankind once more. Not everyone is excited at the prospect.

Over the past 40 or more years we’ve watched as first Japan and then South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Brunei joined the rich nations while China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and others rush to join them. China, India, Brazil and a united Europe are among the nations/political entities poised to become global leaders in the 21st century. Whether or not we, the United States, remain a global leader depends on whether we continue our present course of near wholesale denial of reality and self-destruction.

One historical lesson regarding nations in decline is their tendency to try and hold on to past glory by failing to be flexible and adaptable in meeting new challenges. If we continue to try and solve problems by looking at the world through a Post World War II-Cold War lens, trying to manipulate the global economy for our benefit, attempting to impose our will on others using the one thing nations in decline still possess-military prowess, we will find ourselves alone and we will fail. We already exhibit significant symptoms of this disease, which is often fatal, but it need not be. It only requires us to be and do the things that made us great in the first place. We need to abandon our adolescent fascination with war, militarism and empire and direct our focus to be the same creative, industrious, adaptable, and flexible people we were, are and have always been, ready to borrow and use ideas of others that are better than our own, and believe in a prosperous and just future for all.

***

Arrogance

 

 

We are such egotistical creatures. Man is such an arrogant ass, not much different from a punk adolescent trying to show others how tough he is. We like to think we can predict and control “things” in our lives. We try to tell ourselves and convince the rest of us we can control, manipulate and reshape nature to suit our purposes. And others of us, using excuses and upside down logic can’t resist the temptation of trying to control the rest of us.

 

We are fortunate some “unknowns” still exist, and man, for all his wanting, has yet to demonstrate ability to control even himself. I find it a bit amusing, reassuring, and I’m relieved when little things go wrong and the predicted and anticipated results don’t appear. Have you noticed when things go wrong how men tend to act like adolescents and deny anything went wrong? Have you ever noticed how agencies, institutions, governments and churches cannot admit guilt or errors? The attitude of all states is based on a kind of infallibility.

 

This attitude is unfortunate since nation-states account for most of the ills and misery in the world. Nations are collective things that become greater than the sum of their individual parts. All states desire to promote their own image and power through whatever means is necessary, available and they can get away using. They are neither moral nor immoral; they are, regardless of their denials to the contrary, all amoral.

 

So, it is always with a sense of pleasure and relief when I discover the intentions and predictions of states and other organizations and institutions fall flat and they are exposed to the reality of their own fallibility.

 

***

jml 07/15/13

Voter Fraud in Indiana

My mother voted for Barrack Obama in 2008 at age 95. It was the first time she had voted in a presidential election since becoming fed up with politics after 1972. She registered and voted in 2008 without fanfare and certainly no hassle.
My mother worked 25 years in a factory after a bitter divorce and being left in the summer of 1951 with two young sons, no job, no income, and no place to live. She did what she had to do in those times. She gritted her teeth, moved from Missouri to her parents home in Wabash, Indiana, got a job making $40 a week and proceeded in her determination to see her sons never had to suffer the pain and humiliation she was experiencing.
That job eventually ruined her health and her hearing. She did it job better than anyone else. Her reward was being paid half as much as her male co-workers doing the same job, but she received the benefit of having to suffer the mental and physical harassment from those same males, sexual or otherwise. She learned to handle herself in this male dominated culture and earned their respect. Of course it was never expressed where it counted, in pay.
Politically she was, like my maternal grandfather, independent. She leaned to Democrats because they were the only party interested in helping people like her who were, because she was divorced and a single mother, cast offs economically, politically, socially and by her own church. The America of the early 1950s was a different place. There was no place for single divorcees and single parent households.
My mother voted in every election through the 1972 presidential election. My family taught that voting was a civic duty and a responsibility of citizenship. There was not excuse for not voting. What happened in and after the 1972 election sickened her of both politics and politicians. She was fed up and done with politicians. But In 2008 at age 95, moved by hope and change offered by Barrack Obama and frightened by Republican John McCain, she reversed her long voting absence, registering and voting, and, as noted earlier, she didn’t have any difficulty doing so. She filled out the information on the voter registration card, sent it to the election board and received her registration and later requested, received and used an absentee ballot to cast her vote. That should be the end of the story, but it isn’t because Indiana enacted a voter ID law that received U.S. Supreme Court blessing in 2008 that changed the landscape, not only for voting, but also for other things, including applying for and getting a state issued picture ID card.
My mother doesn’t possess a lot of material assets. Her income consists of social security benefits and a small pension from her former employer (Honeywell) that was vastly reduced because she was forced to retire early due to injuries received doing their work. She has enough to exist, but hardly enough to live. Some years ago as a means of helping her maintain her own household and live independently she applied for and qualified for Section 8 Housing Assistance. The amount of rental assistance this program provided (less than half her rent) was enough to make the difference for her to live in modest comfort on her own.
In the spring of 2010 mother made her annual pilgrimage to the local Housing Authority office to sign papers and listen to the bureaucratic pontification required for her to remain in the program. A week later she received notice the Indiana driver’s license she had been using for an identification card had expired and she would have to provide a new up-to-date one to prove her identity. All she needed to do, they said, was go to the local Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch, provide the necessary documents to attest she was who she claimed to be and receive a new one.
So I gathered documents, loaded her into my car and off we went to the BMV. When we finally got to the window for someone to assist, we learned that to get a state issued picture ID Mom would need her birth certificate. I tried, but to no avail, to inform the clerk that in many Indiana counties birth records were not recorded until well into the 20th century. She replied, her nose elevating with each word, “you must present a valid birth certificate from the county of her birth.”
A bit later I discovered she did have a birth certificate, but there was a slight glitch. A cousin, who lived in Adams County (Decatur), Indiana, had gone to the local courthouse several years ago and secured a copy for her. However, the date of birth on the certificate read September 20, 1913 and my mother was born on September 19, 1913. Mom, I discovered, had simply crossed out the incorrect date and written in the correct one. I knew this would not pass muster so I again loaded her in my car and off to Decatur we went. It is only about 20 miles from Fort Wayne, so it took about a half hour to get there and a few more minutes to find the building where the county health department was located.
Some how I was able to get mom up to the second floor office (she wears a pacemaker and going up stairs is difficult) and waited until an older lady inquired as to our business. I explained the situation and we were able to quickly locate the record of her birth as written by the doctor who assisted in her delivery. There in black and white was my mother’s birth recorded as September 20, 1913. The good doctor hadn’t gotten the day right! We knew my mother was born on the 19th because this is what her father recorded, and her mother and two older sisters told her. This is what the whole family told her, and who would know better?
I asked the two very sympathetic clerks, “How do we correct the date and get a valid birth certificate for my mother?” The clerk said she needed to provide two old documents showing her birthday as September 19, 1913, and two other forms of identification. I took mom home and then scoured her records, which she had entrusted to me for safekeeping. I was able to find two old insurance documents dating from about 1950 with her proper birthday and other vital information listed.
In the meantime, since she was not going to have her state picture ID to satisfy the Housing Authority deadline, I first stopped there and informed them it would take time to secure all the documents. They threatened to remove her from the program, but seeing the fire in my eyes and after demanding to speak to their superior they relented and suggested I provide it as soon as mother was able to get one.
The next day I again loaded mother back into the car and drove with her to Decatur for a second time and helped her climb the steps to the second floor office of the Health Department. (Later I discovered there was an elevator that had been added to this old high school building turned county offices, but was at the far end and not well marked.) We provided the documents to the clerk and she made the correction to the record adding the necessary notations, made copies of our documents for their records, and a new birth certificate was issued. We could now go back to the BMV and get mom a state issued picture ID! Well, yes and no.
Next day I picked up mom and went to the BMV loaded with documents, utility bills and a new official birth certificate. However the stern faced clerk quickly informed us our information was incomplete and some unacceptable. We were told in addition to the birth certificate and the recently paid utility bills she would also have to provide a copy of her marriage license! “Huh”? I’m sure my mouth was wide open in amazement. I was stunned.
“You must have a copy of her marriage license to prove her name changed,” the stern-face BMV clerk explained. “You’ll have to contact the county where she was married to get a copy before we can proceed,” she said calmly. I’m sure she had been here many times before. I also had in my possession a number of ID’s from the past, including one issued by the State of Indiana with her social security number (another requirement) clearly in view, but it was declined because it was out of date!! They declined to recognize her recently expired Indiana Driver’s License with her picture on it because it was expired (by a couple months). I guess you can’t be too careful about these things. You never know from what quarter a terrorist, criminal or fraudulent voter might appear.
I did my best to explain the problem to my mother, loading her back into the car and taking her back to her apartment. I went home and called Wabash County Health Department in Wabash, Indiana where my mother was married and they directed me to the proper person who said I would need to send a letter and a small fee to get a copy of the marriage license. I did as asked and in a couple days had the new copy.
I again put mother into my car and drove to the BMV. This time I was sure we were properly prepared, having all the required documents. We went through the formalities of getting a number and waiting to be called. When that finally happened the lady took much time and examined each piece of information, each word, each sentence, as if it were of the highest import and vital to get right. It was examined as if every word and every letter might be hiding a secret code. After some moments she summoned her supervisor who also scrutinized the documents, examining each as if it were contained top-secret information vital to our nation’s security. Being the supervisor, she was required to bless each transaction as part of the process of making certain no falsification occurred. You can’t be too careful who you trust these days! A 97-year-old woman might be part of a sleeper cell or a front for voter fraud.
One document seemed to have attracted their attention and both spent some time examining and conferring on it. It was my mother’s marriage license! I soon learned her first name was spelled DELORES on the marriage license while the correct spelling on her birth certificate was DOLORES. By this time my blood was boiling, my face was red, and my eyes filled with fire. I know this because the supervisor turned and looked at me as if she was going to say something and then seeing my face, paused, and gave the document her blessing and quickly departed.
This was the end, right? No it wasn’t. Next mom had to have her picture taken. My mother was 97 years old at the time and standing for any length of time was difficult. Her eyesight, hearing and body strength were failing, but her mind was and is crystal clear and sharp! They made her stand while they took her picture SEVEN times, saying each time that something was wrong and they had to do it over, which was a blatant falsehood! The new picture ID contains more than the picture you can see. By the last picture my mother had lost all patience. I knew she was about to unload several rounds of verbal buckshot when they finally said, “Finished”. We returned to the person processing the papers and after signing a couple application documents and receiving a sincere apology from the clerk, we left, but not with a new ID. Oh no, no, no. Those can only be issued from Indianapolis. The State of Indiana does not allow BMV branches to complete these very critical and important tasks. They are not to be trusted. Only Indianapolis has the proper knowledge and expertise to do this.
This is a picture of what it is like to secure a state issued picture ID card in Indiana. The voter ID law was passed with one purpose and only one purpose in mind-get around existing law to limit who votes and deny the elderly, poor, and minority voters their constitutional rights. It is a modern form of a poll tax. It is a mark of shame upon us all. But sadly, those responsible are not bothered by the shame. They wear it like a badge of honor.