advice from a fake consultant

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Social Security: Where’s Our Tahrir Square? February 3, 2011

We have seen some amazing days in Egypt, and it’s provided a better lesson than anyone could have ever wanted for how taking action, against long odds, can really get something done.

A secret police mechanism has been pushed aside, an Army has chosen not to attack The People, and a President who was backed by the “full faith and credit” of the US Government on Friday was being told by that same US Government on Tuesday that it’s time to go.

The People, in fact, spoke so loudly that Mr. Mubarak has informed Egyptians that he’s going to “pursue corruption”, which, if taken literally, could eventually look like a puppy chasing its own tail.

The People, however, are unhappy with his answer, and they’re speaking even louder yet…even to the point of being willing to take beatings, gunfire, and, believe it or not…camel charges…to make their voices heard.

And that got me to thinking about Social Security.

You know, we are facing the potential for a great big Social Security fight for pretty much the entire term of the 112th Congress—and it seems to me that a series of great big “Cairo-style” marches might be the way to make our voices heard, so that this Congress understands that great big benefit cuts are something that we will not tolerate.

Oh, Vanity of vanities!
How wayward the decrees of Fate are;
How very weak the very wise,
How very small the very great are!

–William Makepeace Thackeray, from the Vanitas Vanitatum

It’s a simple point I make today: we want a Social Security program that’s in fiscal balance, and raising the income tax cap can do that without changing the retirement age, or means testing, or anything else…so let’s just do it, already.

(Raising the tax cap? If you make over $107,000 a year, that income is tax-exempt when it comes to Social Security. Taxing that income would fix the entire financing problem, with money left over, which means you could actually cut payroll tax rates for all workers at the same time.)

On the other side are those who seek to cut benefits for future recipients, and there is no logical reason why, when we have a simple fix in hand—but there is still such a community of folks, and they have considerable influence in all the right places.

But as we have learned this week, even when the other side has considerable influence—even in the wrong places—people can beat the odds and change the political dynamic, and they can do it in a way that can’t be turned back, even if the other side is willing to kill you where you stand…and the women and children you brought with you as well.

And if pro-democracy demonstrators in Liberation Square can do it…why can’t we, who want to make Social Security work for everyone, do the same?

Now I’m not suggesting that we gather up our camels and bottles and gasoline and head for the barricades—but I am suggesting that if we do not make the same kind of assertive showing the “Tea Party” folks did during the runup to the health care debate, then we are missing a huge opportunity, and if we fail we’ll have to wonder if not acting on this kind of strategy cost us support we badly need.

And we can even do it in an alternative way: let’s schedule friendly Town Halls with members of Congress who would like to help, and let’s hear from constituents—of all persuasions—about how they would absolutely not like to see their Social Security cut.

And who, exactly, is going to show up to demand they get their benefits cut?

My guess, it’ll be just the opposite: I would expect to see lots of folks, of all ages, who are tired of getting screwed, and who don’t want to get screwed again—and how much you wanna bet they’ll be nice and enthusiastic about expressing that point of view?

Get it on the TV, build a bit of momentum, and by summer you could be scheduling a nice “Social Security Flat Tax Now!” march on the National Mall, kinda like what Stewart and Colbert did last year.

Once you do that…as we learned during the health care debate…Democrats and Republicans alike can be “managed” more effectively, and those “paid for by Pete Peterson” deficit commission staff members end up being a less profitable investment than a credit default swap denominated in Icelandic krona and executed with the Central Bank of Greece as a counterparty and a consortium of the Central Banks of Portugal and Iceland as guarantors.

It may be snowing today, but the blossoms will be on the cherry trees in just a few weeks, and if we’re going to get this together, we better get started right away.

So…my Social Security friends and allies…anyone know some cooperative Members of Congress?

Author’s Note: We spent some time in December working to help Betsie Gallardo, who was trying to have her Florida prison sentence commuted so that she could end her life at home with a bit of dignity.

That effort was successful, and we now know that she did pass away January 31st, surrounded by friends and family, and we wish her adoptive mother, Jessica Bussert, and all those friends and family all our warmest thoughts.

It will soon be spring, and the flowers will again bloom, and when they do perhaps we’ll see in them, as we did with Betsie, a reminder of the beauty that life can bring—and just how fragile that beauty can be.

 

On Actually Ending DADT, Or, “Could It Really Take Another Year?” December 20, 2010

So we got the good news that legislative repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that kept LBGT folks from openly serving in the military has occurred, as the Senate voted Saturday to first cut off debate on the question (that’s the vote that required 60 Senators to pass) and then to pass the actual repeal legislation (which also garnered more than 60 Senate votes, even though it only needed 51).

Most people would assume that once Bill (remember Bill, from “Schoolhouse Rock”?) made it out of Congress and over to the President to for a signature that the process of repeal will be ended—but in fact, there’s quite a bit more yet to do, and it’s entirely possible that a year or more could go by before the entire process is complete.

Today we’ll discuss our way through why it’s going to take so long; to illustrate the point we’ll consider an actual military order that is quite similar to the sort of work that will be required from the Department of Defense (DOD) before the entire “DADT to open service” transition is complete.

“You cannot eliminate even one basic assumption, one substantial part of this philosophy—it is as if it were a solid block of steel—without abandoning objective truth, without falling into the arms of bourgeois-reactionary falsehood.”

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin)

To set things up, let’s define, exactly, what “transition” is: the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the President all have to certify that the military is ready for the change; 60 days after that certification is made, full repeal occurs.

Soooo…now that Congress has cracked the block of steel, why is it going to take so long for full repeal to take place?

The answer, I’m afraid, is all about being way too organized.

In order to make the move to open service, there will have to be a series of official actions taken that will include developing an entire infrastructure around identifying new standards of conduct, deciding who exactly will be the “evangelizers” that go out and talk to commanders and troops, and who will be involved in supporting enforcement of the new policies.

You may recall that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was associated with a sudden spike in sexual assaults among servicemembers; this required the military to develop solutions (and yes, the controversy around how effective those solutions have been could easily be their own story, but not today).

The reason sexual assault interests us today is because the kinds of orders that were created for commanders then are quite similar to what will be needed now, and we have one of those orders readily available so that we can really visualize what kind of thing we’re talking about.

It’s too long to include in its entirety, but here’s a selected sample:

6. THIS PARAGRAPH PROVIDES DETAILS FOR APPOINTING AND TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS.

A. COMMANDERS AT BRIGADE LEVEL AND HIGHER ECHELONS (DIVISION, CORPS, AND ARMY COMPONENT COMMAND) WILL IMMEDIATELY APPOINT, ON COLLATERAL DUTY, A MINIMUM OF ONE SOLDIER/CIVILAIN TO SERVE AS THE COMMAND S DEPLOYABLE SEXUAL ASSAULT RESPONSE COORDINATOR (SARC). COMMANDERS WILL SELECT QUALIFIED PERSONNEL FOR DUTY AS DEPLOYABLE SARC IN ACCORDANCE WITH PARAGRAPH 7 OF THIS MESSAGE.
B. DEPLOYABLE SARCS SHOULD NOT BEGIN RESPONDING TO SEXUAL ASSAULTS UNTIL THEY RECEIVE TRAINING. INITIAL TRAINING FOR DEPLOYABLE SARCS WILL OCCUR THROUGH ONE OF THE FOLLOWING METHODS.
1. FROM THE INSTALLATION SARC. THIS IS THE PRIMARY METHOD FOR TRAINING DEPLOYABLE SARCS. THIS TRAINING SHOULD OCCUR AS SOON AS INSTALLATION SARCS ARE IN PLACE AND OPERATIONAL, BUT NOT LATER THAN 30 JUNE 2005 FOR ALL ACTIVE COMPONENT UNITS.
2. BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM (MTT) IN THE CENTCOM AOR. DEPLOYABLE SARCS ASSIGNED TO UNITS ALREADY IN THE CENTCOM AOR WILL RECEIVE TRAINING BY A MOBILE TRAINING TEAM AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS DURING MAY AND JUNE. SPECIFIC DATES AND LOCATIONS HAVE BEEN COORDINATED BETWEEN CFSC AND ARCENT.
3. BY SPECIAL REQUEST OF UNITS SCHEDULED TO DEPLOY THAT WILL NOT BE IN THE CENTCOM AOR PRIOR TO THE MTT TRAINING CITED ABOVE. UNITS THAT ARE IN THIS CATEGORY AND ARE UNABLE TO HAVE THEIR DEPLOYABLE SARCS TRAINED USING ANY OF THE METHODS LISTED ABOVE SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO COORDINATE A SPECIAL MTT.
4. DURING DOD SPONSORED SARC TRAINING CONFERENCES SCHEDULED FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES AND LOCATIONS: 28 JUN 1 JUL (CHARLOTTE, NC); 12-15 JUL (SAN DIEGO, CA); 19-22 JUL (HAWAII); 27-30 SEP (ATLANTA, GA). PRIORITY FOR ATTENDANCE AT THESE SESSIONS WILL BE GIVEN TO RESERVE COMPONENT UNITS. ALL INSTALLATION SARCS, AND AS MANY ACTIVE COMPONENT DEPLOYABLE SARCS AS CAN BE ACCOMMODATED, MAY ALSO ATTEND THESE JOINT SERVICE EVENTS AS ADDITIONAL TRAINING. SPECIFIC COORDINATING INSTRUCTIONS ARE BEING WORKED WITH DOD BY THE ARMY COMMUNITY AND FAMILY SUPPORT CENTER (CFSC). UNITS SHOULD CONTACT THE CFSC POC AT THE END OF THIS MESSAGE TO SCHEDULE DEPLOYABLE SARC ATTENDANCE AT ANY OF THESE SESSIONS.

As you can imagine, the way that you end up with this sort of work product is for the Secretary of Defense to begin talking to his most senior Generals and Admirals, who will then will gather their paperwork forces and convene working groups, they’ll start passing drafts around and getting approvals; and the output from that process will be delivered to unit commanders all the way down the chain.

If these regulations are a model, conference centers will have to be made available, advocates and trainers will have to be appointed, and then unit commanders will have to train their troops to the new standards.

It is likely that there are regulations to be written that will impact the civilian world; if that’s the case, those regulations generally require, after they’re written, a 90 day public comment period, and that will also add to the total time that will be needed. If the regulations need to be rewritten after the comment period, there will be a bit more delay.

To add to the issues to be addressed, some of the forces are today “combat deployed”, and for the most part I wouldn’t expect a lot of effort to train any of them to new standards until they’re rotated out of combat.

It is possible that certification could occur even if those forces are not yet trained, but the training infrastructure is in place for them when they return; if that’s the case things would obviously move faster.

In addition to managing the conduct of servicemembers, the military issues standards of conduct that affect “dependants”. Some of those dependants live in base housing, and their kids often attend base schools; all of this will likely create the need for more rules and training, especially since there will be people in the military community who will be intolerant of the new regime.

Now this story actually grew out of a comment that I made at The Bilerico Project after the DADT cloture vote. The response to that comment, if I might paraphrase, was that it’s amazing that we can move tens of thousands of troops all the way to the Middle East and commence to killing everyone in sight faster than we can teach our own troops to accept each other equally.

That’s a well-focused observation, I think (and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are those in the service making the same comment), and in the end, the way the services deal with the issues behind that complaint (and the host of other issues that surround this transition) is going to be the marker by which we determine if the military will remain an institution that commands as much respect among Americans as it does today.

Will they succeed?

Starting next week, it looks like we’ll be finding out.

 

On Email Gay Bashing, Or, ENDA’s Already Getting Ugly March 25, 2010

It wasn’t but a couple of days ago that we had a conversation about The Fear and the emails that are used to spread it, and I figured with that out of the way we had dealt with the topic, and that we’d move on to new things.

Well, we would be moving on, Gentle Reader, if it wasn’t for the fact that an email came in today that was so ugly, so disturbing, and so indicative of what we are about to see as the battle over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) begins to heat up (ENDA being possibly the next “big contentious thing” that this Administration hopes to accomplish), that I had to interrupt my story schedule to bring it to your attention.

“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”

–W.C. Fields

For those not yet aware, let’s do a bit of background: there have been a series of civil rights laws passed over the years, providing protections related to the right to vote, providing for equality in housing and employment based on race, or religion, or ethnicity, or gender, and providing protections for the disabled.

What is missing is a law protecting those who are gay or those who might view gender in a way that’s different than what the most fundamentalist church in town views as “normal” from discrimination in housing and employment; the idea is that ENDA (officially known as H.R. 3017, Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009) is intended to fill that gap.

The House Education and Labor Committee has held hearings on the bill, but that’s as far as it’s gone so far. Now that the pressure is easing to get health care reform through Congress, there are people who would like to advance ENDA from a bill to a law…and I’m one of ‘em.

So, naturally, when an email came into my inbox asking “Do You Support The Homosexual Agenda?” I thought to myself: “why, yes, I do”, and opened the darn thing.

As it turns out, the sender, “Public Advocate of the United States” (which, I assume, is not to be confused with The Advocate), is not a supporter of Teh Gay Agenda…but that’s not really a surprise, is it?

In fact, the group is against…well, pretty much everything, including:

“…The National Endowment of the Arts and the federal funding and endorsement of pornography and obscenity as legitimate forms of art;

The mainstream media’s promotion and glorification of drug abuse, teenage sex, gangs, atheism, homosexuality and other immoral behavior and beliefs;

The passage of hate crimes and thought control legislation that creates inequality in our state and federal legal systems…”

All of which they present with no apparent sense of the contradictions inherent in their own positions…which is also not really a surprise.

Anyway, according to the email…

“The Radical Homosexuals claim you and other pro-family Americans actually now support same-sex marriage, special job preferences for homosexuals and promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in schools…”

First off (and I had to do some research to confirm this), The Radical Homosexuals are not a band, which is too bad, because that would be one sweet name to put on a marquee.

Secondly, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, the country is split, almost 60/40, in favor of civil unions, this according to Pew…and when it comes to actual marriage, Pew counts it at 53% against, 39% for…which means The Radical Homosexuals are more correct in their assertions than Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy might like.

But let’s move on:

“…You see, the Radical Homosexuals are storming through Washington demanding passage of their agenda.

And with the passage of Thought Control last year, they say NOW is the time to push their perverse “life-style” on every man, women and child in America.

And they insist YOU actually support them.

The Homosexual Lobby played a major role in electing Obama and the majorities he enjoys in both houses of Congress.

I can only begin to imagine all the damage the Radical Homosexuals will do with their allies controlling the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

As the President of Public Advocate of the U.S., I’ve devoted twenty-seven years to battling the radical homosexuals in Washington.

Backed by Hollywood celebrities, the media and millions of your tax dollars, the Radical Homosexuals have many Congressmen quivering with fear — and they have a Radical Homosexual-friendly majority in control of Congress…”

(A quick word regarding emphasis: throughout this story, where emphasis occurs, it’s as it was presented in the original, except that for technical reasons I had to change underlined words to italics.)

Storming?
Thought Control?
A Quivering Majority of the Members of Congress?

And that’s only what he can begin to imagine:

“…Frankly if you really do support the radical Homosexual Agenda — or if you just no longer care enough to stand up for the family — insiders in Congress say the entire Homosexual Agenda could pass in a matter of months.

*** Special job rights for homosexuals and lesbians. Businesses may have to adopt hiring quotas to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every homosexual fired or not hired becomes a potential federal civil rights lawsuit.

Radical homosexuals will terrorize day care centers, hospitals, churches and private schools. Traditional moral values will be shattered by federal law.

*** Same-sex marriages and adoptions. Wedding-gown clad men smooching before some left-wing clergy or state official is just the beginning.

You’ll see men hand-in-hand skipping down to adoption centers to “pick out” a little boy for themselves.

*** Homosexual advocacy in schools. Your children or grandchildren will be taught homosexuality is moral, natural and good. High school children will learn perverted sex acts as part of “safe sex” education.

With condoms already handed out in many schools, Radical Homosexuals will have little trouble adopting today’s “if it feels good do it” sex-ed curriculum to their agenda.

And to add insult to injury, lobbyists for the Homosexual Agenda are paid off with your tax dollars!

That’s right, radical homosexual groups like the Gay-Lesbian Task Force and ACT-UP receive millions from the government.

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow from taxpayers to homosexual activists through funding for homosexual “art,” so-called AIDS-awareness programs, and research grants…”

OK…so…at this point I need you to sit back down and take a deep breath, because it’s about to get a whole lot weirder.

I do not want you drinking anything while you read this next passage.
I don’t want you eating, either.

There are a few of you who may…oh, how should I put this…it’s possible that you may have some doubts about your own mental health.

To paraphrase comedian Lewis Black: if you go to an International House of Pancakes and you have “body issues”, you will inevitably feel better about yourself after the visit; this because there is always someone there who is at least 400 pounds heavier than you will ever weigh, ever, in your entire life.

The next portion of this email represents the International House of Mental Health, and there’s someone there 400 times crazier than you…and it’s this guy:

“…One stormy night I drove to a mailshop hidden deep in a nearly deserted stand of warehouses. I’d heard something was up and wanted to see for myself.

As I rounded the final turn my eyes nearly popped. Tractor-trailers pulled up to loading docks, cars and vans everywhere and long-haired, earring-pierced men scurrying around running forklifts, inserters and huge printing presses.

Trembling with worry I went inside. It was worse than I ever imagined.

Row after row of boxes bulging with pro-homosexual petitions lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling.

My mind reeled as I realized hundreds, maybe thousands, more boxes were already loaded on the tractor-trailers. And still more petitions were flying off the press.

Suddenly a dark-haired man screeched, “Delgaudio what are you doing here?” Dozens of men began moving toward me. I’d been recognized.

As I retreated to my car, the man chortled, “This time Delgaudio we can’t lose.”

Driving away, my eyes filled with tears as I realized he might be right. This time the Radical Homosexuals could win.

You see, even though homosexuals are just 1% of the population, if every one sent a petition to Congress it would generate a tidal wave of two or three million petitions or more.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-homosexual petitions will soon flood Congress , and my friends in Congress tell me there’s virtually nothing on Capitol Hill from the tens of millions of Americans like you who oppose the radical Homosexual Agenda and the Gay Bill of Special Rights.

I made up my mind that night to write to you and as many other patriotic Americans as possible. To stop the Radical Homosexuals and protect traditional marriage there must be an immediate outpouring from folks like you….”

I need to interrupt for a quick second to ask a question: is it just me, or is the only difference between that story and a bad gay porn film that there’s nobody knocking at the door saying: “here’s the pizza…and here’s the pepperoni”?

“…Homosexual activists mock me in the halls of Congress. They say it’s too late because Americans like you don’t care enough to help, especially with the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House…”

Hey, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy: just because someone mocks you in the hall, it doesn’t mean they’re some kind of homosexual activist.

They could be mental health activists, for example, or activists promoting better education…and, of course, it’s always possible they’re from the Netherlands.

Now not all the news here is bad:

“…If you won’t help, I’m afraid there is little more I can do.

But the fact is, even if every person responds it won’t be enough to counter all the radical homosexuals are doing.

And not everyone will respond. Some are cowed by how pro-family Americans are portrayed on TV. Others will count on someone else to fight the fight and carry the load. I don’t believe you are like that…”

Just a real quick little bit of advice for the author of this piece, if I may be so bold.

Context matters, as those who used the word “Teabag” just a bit too freely discovered last spring, much to our delight, and when you’re busy stirring up The Fear Of The Radical Homosexual, I would be careful how I throw around terms like “carry the load”.

Next time, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, consider hiring a panel of 13-year-old boys who like Beavis and Butthead DVDs for a focus group before you hit the “Send” button and this sort of thing might not happen again.

The rest of this is a great big fundraiser which includes a series of links to what the sender calls a “Morality Survey”, but what I call either a push-poll or a handy one-page checklist of the arguments you can expect to hear over the next few months.

Now I think we’ve all seen enough of this for today, but here’s what I want you to take away from our conversation:

ENDA will be used as a tool to continue spreading hate in the run-up to this year’s elections…and really, really, really creepy people will be trying to scare you using really, really, really turgid (and I do mean turgid) prose.

The imaging will be ugly, with the fears of pedophilia and crossdressing and things being rammed down throats likely to all play starring roles in the Conserva-theater that’s soon to come.

I also expect to see more “outings”, á la Karl Rove’s usual practice—even against other Republicans, which has already apparently happened in this cycle, in the Illinois Senate Republican primary.

“…Stop imagining, unravel the truth and ask: “just who is it happening to?”

Everything that the passenger do, the driver experience, too

So if humanity is one then we all get burned when it’s hell that we’re traveling through…”

–From the song The Travelers, by Brother Ali.

There is no reason for us to blow this one.

The Conservative craziness that’s coming may become so extreme that even the Republicans no longer want any part of these people, but I wouldn’t count on it.

What I would count on is that this is the kind of fight we want to be having—as long as we’re out there having it.

Talk to your friends, talk to those people in line at the espresso stand, and (here’s one for the Captain in all of us), maybe even talk to the attractive individual working out next to you at the gym. Make them understand what this election is really going to be about, how desperate the other side is, and why we can’t afford to let them win.

The Radical HomoFearoPhobians are already hard at work, so get out there and do the same.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer another summer of really, really, awful Teabagging.

 

On Projecting R-71’s Outcome, Or, We Visit A Political Party November 6, 2009

Over the past few days we have been talking about Washington State’s Referendum 71, which was voted on this week. If passed, the Referendum will codify in law certain protections for same-sex couples.

In the first story of our three-part series we discussed Washington’s unusual vote-by-mail system; in the second we examined the pre-election polling.

Today we talk about what happened Election Night at the R-71 event and where the vote count stands today…and where it might end up when we’re all done.

We have lots of geeky electoral analysis ahead—and as a special bonus, we have video of the event, including an exclusive interview with Charlene Strong, the woman who became one of the icons of the pro-71 campaign.

It’s a lot to cover, so we better get right to it.

The Big “Catch-Up”

If you are new to this story, we’ll give you a real quick “catch-up”:

On Tuesday’s ballot Washington voters were asked to consider Referendum 71, which is going to decide whether E2SSB 5688 (passed by the Legislature and “[e]xpanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners”) shall be allowed to go into effect. (E2SSB, by the way, stands for “Engrossed Second Senate Substitute Bill”.)

Voting to approve means the bill will go into law, voting to reject will prevent the bill from having any force or effect under law.

Washington State votes almost entirely by mail, and all ballots postmarked by midnight, November 3rd will be counted. Since lots of voters put their ballots in the mail on November 3rd (myself included), that means, when things are close, that the outcome of any particular question might not be known on Election Day.

About 2/3 of Washington’s population of 6.8 million is concentrated in the Western portion of the State; 3.5 million of those residents live in just three counties: King, Pierce, and Snohomish (Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett being the largest cities in those counties). 25% of the State’s population (1.9 million) resides in King County.

Clark County, which is immediately adjacent to Portland, Oregon (largest city: Vancouver), is slightly smaller in population than Eastern Washington’s largest county, Spokane, which has a population of roughly 450,000.

As it happens, the voting on R-71 is rather close, which is consistent with the pre-election polling…which means at this point you’re pretty well caught up and we’re ready to move on to new business.

The morning sun rose above the Cascades and reflected its dusky orange glow off the bottom of the thin clouds Wednesday morning, enveloping those who were awake with a blanket of soothing daylight.

The night before, however, supporters of same-sex marriage had gathered, in their goat leggings and leather, to engage in a horrifying bacchanal involving the setting of bonfires, the invocation of incantations, and the sacrifices of—

Well, actually, none of that ever happened…but it sounded like a lot of fun, didn’t it?

What Actually Happened

Instead, a crowd of roughly 250 gathered at Seattle’s Pravda Studios to wait for the results. The event was quite upbeat before results were announced, and that mood was reinforced when it was announced that seven Western Washington counties, including King County, were voting to approve the Referendum.

I was lucky enough to get some insight as to how that happened when I interviewed Charlene Strong, who tragically lost her partner three years ago. Her face and her story have figured prominently in this campaign—but as she pointed out to me, the seeds of whatever happens in this election were planted years ago:

…”…the citizens of Washington State…put a Governor in place that is all about equality and a Legislative team that is all about equality and I feel very proud tonight to be a citizen of Washington State, and I’m sure I’ll be feeling that way for quite some days to come…”

(I am not, and have never been, a camera operator for the MTV Networks. Instead, I’m still getting used to my little Flip Video camera…which is why much of the interview appears to have been conducted with the most gracious Ms. Strong’s shoulder. Mea culpa.)

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

And with the stage having been set, let’s get geeky:

Washington’s Secretary of State keeps track of statewide ballot measures (including verifying the petition signatures), and it is on their site where we will find statewide results. At the moment (the moment being 6:24 PM, November 4th) 593,956 voters have voted to approve and 556,090 voted to reject, which means R-71 is leading 51.65-48.35%.

Ballots representing almost 33% of the State’s voters have been counted so far, and it is estimated that 394,482 ballots are on hand, around the State, waiting to be counted.

Here’s how the five largest counties are shaping up:

King County Elections reports that R-71 is passing by a 66-33% margin (202,125 to 101,403), with a total of 438,557 votes having been received so far from the County’s 1,079,842 registered voters. These numbers tell us that 135,029 votes are currently on hand, waiting to be counted. (63,446 votes came in today.)

It is likely that 90,000 of those uncounted votes are going to be “approved” votes, based on current trends. If a similar number of votes came in tomorrow, roughly 40,000 more votes would be “approve votes”, suggesting as many as 130,000 more “approved” votes could be waiting to be tallied up.

(Based on these numbers, we already know that King County will exceed the 51% statewide turnout rate that the Secretary of State projected before the election.)

Snohomish County Elections reports that 101,737 votes have been received so far, with 45,000 votes currently uncounted. Voters are approving the measure, but with a much closer margin: 51.72-48.28% (51,222-47,809). The remaining 45,000 votes should add about 1,000 votes to R-71’s lead.

We do not know how many votes were received today by the County, but if we assume that 50% of the total number of votes were in the mail in Election Day, then another 50,000 or so votes should be still on the way, which should also increase R-71’s lead by about 1,000 votes, if current trends hold.

(If we assume that the County will achieve a 50% turnout rate, roughly 40,000 Ballots should be in the mail, which only adds 800 additional votes, not the 1,000 estimated in the precious paragraph.)

The Pierce County Auditor reports that 90,367 votes are in, and the “rejected” votes are leading, 47,307 (53.08%) to 41,809 (46.92%). The estimate is that 50,000 ballots remain to be counted. 60,000 additional votes would be needed for the County to reach a 50% turnout rate, and if you projected that 110,000 votes onto the current trend the “approve 71” final vote should decline by about 6,500 votes.

Clark County Elections indicates that R-71 is losing there as well, with 36,206 (46.01%) voting to approve and 42,481 (53.99%) voting to reject. 13,000 ballots are reported to be uncounted. Clark County has 215,626 registered voters, and based on these numbers it would take an additional 14,450 votes to get to a 50% turnout. That suggests the “approve R-71” vote should decline by about another 2,000 votes.

Finally, Spokane County. There are 257,092 registered voters in the County, and they came out against R-71 in a big way, with 38,079 (39.98%) voting to approve and 57,169 (60.02%) voting to reject. The estimate is that 35,000 votes remain to be counted, and it’s likely those votes will decrease the “approve R-71” lead by about 6,000 votes.

The County has exceeded 50% turnout, and we do not know how many votes arrived today. If we assume 60% turnout, another 25,000 votes would be in the mail, reducing the “approve R-71” lead by another 5,000 votes.

The Big “Wrap-Up”

So what does all this mean?

How about this: I have forever told people that if the candidate or measure you support can win, with a reasonable margin, in Washington’s five largest counties, you’re gonna win the election.

With that in mind, let’s tally up the numbers and see where we are:

The King County tally, by my guess, will add another 130,000 “approved” votes to the statewide total. Snohomish County voters could add 2,000 more votes. Pierce, Clark, and Spokane Counties should reduce the “approve” votes by about 14,500 votes.

Add it all up, and I’m estimating that R-71 could gain 117,500 votes…but that number will certainly go down because of the votes of the rest of the State…so if I had to guess (and I guess I am) I would project that R-71 is going to pass with a margin of victory somewhere in the range of 80-100,000 votes, as opposed to the current margin of roughly 37,000 votes.

There are lots of caveats here: the estimates of incoming ballots could be off, the 50% turnout estimate could be inaccurate, and currently uncounted votes might not follow the trends of the votes counted so far.

Additionally, I will freely admit that I’m biased: I support R-71 (and to take it further, if same-sex couples want to marry…as long as I don’t have to buy all of them presents, I don’t see the problem), and this bias could be affecting my judgment.

So that’s today’s story: based on the return data that is known, and my own guess on what’s likely, I’m going way out on the proverbial limb and projecting that R-71 wins by somewhere between 80-100,000 votes, primarily on the strength of the uncounted King County vote and an estimate of votes that will arrive over the next 48 hours.

As with any modeling project, there are a lot of potential problems that might affect the model’s output—including my own biases—but I feel good about this estimate, and over the next week or so, we’ll see if I’m right.

Additionally, we got to have an inside look at the “process” of R-71…and we got to have an exclusive conversation with Charlene Strong’s shoulder—which, I promise, will become a “teachable moment” for yours truly as we grow, going forward, from a “words only” storytelling service into a video storytelling service.

It’s a great place to end Part Three—and it leaves us perfectly positioned to move on to a discussion of what we can learn from Tuesday’s skirmishes—but for now I have to go and strap on the goat leggings and get back to work.

After all, the doomed won’t sacrifice themselves, will they?

UPDATE: 11/05/09, 8 PM PST

After looking at tonight’s numbers, I’m now thinking that the margin of victory will be closer to 30-35,000, rather than 80-100,000.

This is because King County now has only 13,800 uncounted votes, far fewer than I predicted. However, I also checked to see if my own ballot packet had arrived, and it has not. This tells us there are an unknown number of ballots that were mailed on Election Day but have not yet arrived.

An additional clue? Turnout is currently reported at 34.93% for King County, which is 15% below the projected State average. If we assume the County will make that 50% turnout number, that means 150,000 ballots are currently unaccounted for…in a County that’s voting 2:1 in favor of the Referendum.

If that many votes do turn up, my 80-100,000 vote margin of victory estimate will again be looking pretty good.

The other big question mark is Pierce County. They report 50,000 uncounted votes–but that is also the exact number they reported yesterday, which makes me think that estimate might be…shall we say, inaccurate?

Snohomish County is now also reporting 56,000 uncounted votes, but they are running something like 52-48%, and as a result I don’t expect those uncounted voted to affect the outcome in any significant way.

Spokane County reports 15,000 uncounted votes, and they are voting 60-40% against, which should reduce the margin of victory by about 10,000 votes.

Clark County has 750 uncounted votes, and they are also trending against, but near 50-50, so even if a lot of votes do come in, the effect should be minimal either way.

The quick summary?

I’m now highly confident that R-71 will win. The margin could be as low as 30-35,000 or as high as my original 80-100,000 estimate if all those King County votes come in.

I don’t think the votes in the other counties are going to change the outcome–and while it’s not yet official, I think you can start to maybe breathe just a bit easier.

 

On Disarmament, Or, How Congressman Larsen Made A “Town Hall” Work August 16, 2009

We’ve all been hearing the “Town Hall Meeting” stories the past few days, and the images presented have been of gatherings where you might see some current or former official “death panel” for the benefit of the crowd, where the few people who shout the loudest bully the rest into silence, and where threats of physical intimidation are part of the debate.

I attended one of these meetings, and based on what I saw I’m here to tell you that it is possible to hold an event that features none of the images previously described.

Instead, what I say was an event where people asked their questions, the Congressman answered—and from time to time the angry members of the audience got their shout on, too…but not in a way that was able to ever take control of the venue.

There were helpful lessons that can be applied by others who want to have these meetings, and today’s conversation examines what can be done to make them work for you, too.

Let’s start by meeting the players:

Rick Larsen is the Member of Congress representing Washington State’s Second District. A Democrat, he first won his seat in the 2000 election, and in 2008 he defeated former Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart by a 62-38% margin.

The (mostly rural) Second District is bordered by Puget Sound on the west, British Columbia to the north (Vancouver is just a short drive from the I-5 border crossing at Blaine, Washington), the Cascade Mountains to the east, and Seattle’s northern suburbs to the south.

From south to north, major cities include Everett (former fishing, lumber and harbor town), Mount Vernon (the largest town in a region known for tulips and eagles and agriculture and formerly, commercial fishing and lumber), and Bellingham (college town, and, again, former fishing and lumber town). All three towns grew substantially as a result of the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s.

There are numerous Indian Tribes within the District, as well as two significant military installations: Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Station Everett.

Larsen had held a previous Town Hall in Mount Vernon that attracted a crowd that was several times the capacity of the venue, so at the last minute Everett Memorial Stadium was booked for this event.

(Fun Fact: this stadium is the home of the minor-league Everett AquaSox, one of the few sports teams to ever take the field in tie-dye uniforms.)

By my count, roughly 2500 were present—but there was an interesting distribution: it appeared to me that the “Diamond Club” seats right behind home plate, and the two sections on either side, were thickly populated with supporters of reform, with opponents “flanking” them to the left and right. The main entrance is on the third base side, and the seats filled up from that side as well, with the seats out past first base being the most empty.

It was not “high summer”, by any means, and at “game time” (5 PM) we had a cloudy sky and a temperature of roughly 65 degrees.

Larsen stood on the field near home plate, and as soon as he started speaking you could see he had three advantages: the large outdoor venue meant that no single person could shout down the meeting, Larsen’s access to the PA system meant that he could always be heard even if a group tried to “chant out” the meeting, and his use of “runners” to take the microphone to each questioner meant no “in your face” screaming matches were going to take place.

Another smart move: Larsen limited his discussion to one specific bill (HR 3200), which allowed him to avoid having to speculate as to what might or might not be in any other possible proposal.

Beyond that, he made it clear in his opening remarks that he would be willing to spend up to 2 ½ hours to answer questions and that the microphone would be getting to every section, in turn, as much as needed; this seemed to remove much of the concern that people would be shut down and left unable to ask questions.

Additionally, he was more than willing to challenge those with whom he disagreed, as evidenced by his answer to one question from the crowd:

“I’ve got facts on my side and you’ve got Glenn Beck on your side…”

At the same time, he was able to use the PA and personal attention to his advantage during questioning. The “runners with mic” system made sure that all questions, from supporters and opponents, could not be drowned out, and by giving real attention to each questioner and presenting a “non form-letter” response (the PA assuring that his answer also could not be drowned out), Larsen was able to show that this was indeed a conversation and not a shouting match.

The crowd also acted as a moderating influence. A number of the questions came from people who seemed as reasonable as they could be, and when some extremist language was presented, the crowd exerted its own influence.

Here’s an example: a questioner asked the Congressman and the crowd to try to come up with one example of Government ever doing anything right, or words to that effect. The crowd offered some supportive cheers.

A couple of questioners later, a man stood up and told the crowd that he did not appreciate the last 20 years of his life being disrespected. He pointed out that the United States Navy, in which he serves, is the finest military force of its kind on the planet (this, in what is today very much a Navy town)…and all of a sudden, the “Government can’t do anything right” supporters, many of whom appeared to be military retirees (based on their age and choice of hats), found themselves…moderated.

About 90 minutes in Larsen called for a “7th inning stretch”, but much of the crowd took that as an invitation to leave, particularly as it was beginning to get cold, and it was starting to rain. Within a few minutes roughly 1500 of the original 2500 people had left.

The event, all in all, was kept under control, and those who came to disrupt were unsuccessful in creating an environment where that could happen…and a lot of that was because of the efforts of Larsen and his staff.

The goal of this exercise is not to go through all the questions and answers and crowd reactions, but I will tell you that I heard a woman behind us asking out loud about what would happen to senior citizens if the Government ever took over Medicare, which I found both profoundly humorous and profoundly sad.

So what can we make from all of this?

First off, a large venue makes it much tougher for any individual or group to take over the event.

Getting your people into a cohesive group near the center of the action is also quite helpful.

Ensuring that the PA is loud enough to always overpower any “disrupters” is vital.

Making sure the crowd understands that nearly everyone who wants to will get to ask questions matters—and it also matters if you appear to be giving reasonable answers to reasonable questions.

Be a bit of a parent, and call the kids out when they deserve it.

Finally, if a questioner says Government can’t do anything right—ask ‘em why they want to disrespect the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. If you’re in Texas…or North Carolina…or California…or Florida—ask ‘em twice.

If you are going to have to campaign for office every two years (and as a Member of Congress, you do), creating a positive image that transcends electoral cycles can be a great thing. These Town Halls offer that opportunity—and if you do it right, you’ll be able to say that you “listened to the voters” and “stood up for the People” and “made the tough decisions”, despite the efforts of special interests to “hijack the process”, for years to come.

And that, Future Candidates, is not a bad image to take on the campaign trail.

SPECIAL NOTE: We note today the recent passage of Les Paul. Many will remember him as the man who made the electric guitar famous, and still others will remember his work with Mary Ford…but if you have ever stood behind turntables or made a mix or a mashup, you should know that everything you’re doing today also came straight from the mind of Les Paul, who was just about the only person on the planet Earth making 24-track overdub recordings all the way back in 1951.

 

On Looking Deeper, Or, Things About Iran You Might Not Know June 24, 2009

It has been an amazing week in Iran, and you are no doubt seeing images that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

For most of us, Iran has been a country about which we know very little…which, obviously, makes it tough to put the limited news we’re getting into a proper context.

The goal of today’s conversation is to give you a bit more of an “insider look” at today’s news; and to do that we’ll describe some of the risks Iranian bloggers face as they go about their business, we’ll meet a blogging Iranian cleric, we’ll address the issue of what tools the Iranians use for Internet censorship and the companies that could potentially be helping it along, and then we’ll examine Internet traffic patterns into and out of Iran.

Finally, a few words about, of all things, how certain computer games might be useful as tools of revolution.

The first task for today…let’s talk about blogging:

It turns out that bloggers in Iran risk running afoul of the Press Law of 1986, which, in addition to requiring the licensing of media outlets, reads in part:

Article 6: The print media are permitted to publish news items except in cases when they violate Islamic principles and codes and public rights as outlined in this chapter…

…5. Encouraging and instigating individuals and groups to act against the security, dignity and interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran within or outside the country…
…7. Insulting Islam and its sanctities, or, offending the Leader of the Revolution and recognized religious authorities (senior Islamic jurisprudents);
8. Publishing libel against officials, institutions, organizations and individuals in the country or insulting legal or real persons who are lawfully respected, even by means of pictures or caricatures; and
9. Committing plagiarism or quoting articles from the deviant press, parties and groups which oppose Islam (inside and outside the country) in such a manner as to propagate such ideas (the limits of such offenses shall be defined by the executive by-law)…

… Article 25: If a person, through the press, expressly and overtly instigates and encourages people to commit crimes against the domestic security or foreign policies of the state, as specified in the public penal code, and should his/her action bear adverse consequences, he/she shall be prosecuted and condemned as an accomplice in that crime. However, if no evidence is found on such consequences he/she shall be subject to a decision of the religious judge according to Islamic penal code.

Article 26: Whoever insults Islam and its sanctities through the press and his/her guilt amounts to apostasy, shall be sentenced as an apostate and should his/her offense fall short of apostasy he/she shall be subject to the Islamic penal code.

Article 27: Should a publication insult the Leader or Council of Leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran or senior religious authorities (top Islamic jurisprudents), the license of the publication shall be revoked and its managing director and the writer of the insulting article shall be referred to competent courts for punishment.

(In Iran, the penalty for apostasy is death.)

Those bloggers who are not licensed can still be prosecuted under the Penal Code, as the OpenNet Initiative reports in an excellent article they’ve just posted on the subject.

In 2008 the Iranian parliament passed a law which provides for the death penalty for bloggers who engage in non-permitted activities, a situation faced today by Yaghub Mehrnahad, who publishes the Mehrnahad blog.

(Interestingly, this blog can be reached in Persian, but an attempt to access the same URL with Google Translate returns this message:

“You are not authorized to view this page

The Web server you are attempting to reach has a list of IP addresses that are not allowed to access the Web site, and the IP address of your browsing computer is on this list.”

More about that later.)

There is also the risk of torture: a problem noted by the BBC at least as far back as 2005.

Ironically, Mohammad Ali Abtabi, a cleric and former Vice-President of Iran whom you may have recently seen on “The Daily Show” maintains a blog in which he does criticize Iranian society on a regular basis, including his assessment of the recent election as “a huge swindling”…which has now caused the authorities to place him under arrest.

So how does Iran manage to control Internet access?

What they aren’t doing is employing the simplest method possible: cutting off all access. This is presumably because of the negative impact on the Iranian economy that would be caused by business being unable to do what they need to do online.

There are several methods being employed, including a requirement that all Internet Service Providers in the country connect to the state-owned Data communication Company of Iran (DCI) for international access, that all ISPs put in place “filtering” and monitoring technologies, and that households be blocked from having access to high-speed Internet connections.

As of this writing the fastest Internet connection now available for an Iranian household is 128k, about double the speed of a dial-up connection…and as you might guess, not fast enough to allow Iranians to use such services as YouTube. A 6MB cable Internet connection, not uncommon in the US, would be roughly 50 times faster. Because of this the total capacity of Iran’s international Internet connections are roughly 12GB per second. Normal traffic is about 5GB per second, which, we are told, is about the same as a mid-size American city.

OpenNet reports that after an initial period of reliance upon foreign monitoring software, the government decided to create an “in-house” capability, and as a result there are locally developed software packages designed to allow access to the actual data packets in messages—meaning that authorities can read such things as e-mails and instant messages after they are sent and before they pass through the DCI “gateway”.

There has been a conversation regarding the role of Western equipment suppliers in all of this; and it is alleged that a Nokia/Siemens joint venture (Nokia/Siemens Networks) has sold to the Iranians equipment that is used to monitor the Internet use of Iranian citizens. The company denies this, however.

They also want you to know that the joint venture has been sold to a third party, and that, as their press release tells us: “providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate ultimately benefits societies and brings greater prosperity”.

Another method of blocking access is to deny connections to certain sets of IP addresses, and this is why, presumably, I could not access the translated version of the “Mehrnahad” blog. This method would also allow the Iranians to block access to and from inside the country to sites like the BBC, Google, and Blogspot.

There is a way around “address blocking” which involves setting up “relays” and “bridges” that can be accessed by people in Iran—and this is something you yourself can do that can be of considerable benefit to Iranians trying to reach out to the rest of us.

The Iranian Government is also trying to locate and isolate those with Twitter accounts that are set to the Tehran time zone…and you can help make that process tougher by either setting up a Twitter account and setting the time zone to Tehran, or changing your existing account’s time zone.

The next few minutes are going to get a bit geeky, and for this I apologize in advance.

In order for your computer to use certain services that involve communicating with other computers the operating system utilizes a series of “ports” (this is all in the software, so don’t bother looking at the back of the machine to find them).

Some quick examples: the TCP/IP connection your computer is using to access the Internet is through Port 80 and the FTP service runs on Port 21.

There are two kinds of ports—TCP and UDP—and there is no reason to explain here why or how they differ.

There are thousands of ports, the ports used are usually specific to a particular service, and there are giant lists of assigned ports that everyone can access. A service can (and usually does) use more than one port for two-way communication with a computer, which is why the Federal Emergency Management Agency Information System uses TCP Port 1777 and UDP Port 1777.

The routing data that packets of information display as they travel through the Internet includes the port that the packet is seeking to access…and that data is accessible to all routers…and if you controlled the gateway through which all inbound and outbound Internet traffic was passing through you could block packets that seek to utilize certain ports.

Experts are suggesting that this is exactly what is happening today in Iran, with more than 80% of traffic bound for ports using the Adobe Flash Player being blocked, nearly 75% of the POP Service (e-mail) traffic being blocked, and roughly 70% of traffic bound for ports used by “proxy servers” being intercepted. (Proxy servers, by the way, are the same type of connections we discussed earlier that you can set up at home to help Iranians trying to reach the Internet.)

Voice over IP (VoIP), the Internet “telephone” service, is proving to be a troublesome issue for censors, as it has legitimate business purposes and is difficult to censor without either having someone listening on the other end of the line or installing a monitoring system worthy of the National Security Agency.

Interestingly, with the exception of the few hours immediately following the vote, the amount of Internet blockage, overall, seems to be fairly close to what it was just before the voting. However, the amount of “instability” has been highly variable, suggesting that certain blocks of IP addresses have been temporarily “withdrawn” from the Internet’s address structure, for want of a better term, and then once again made known to that same addressing infrastructure.

It is suggested that this may be because the Iranian Government has been able to institute a sufficient level of monitoring on those address blocks so as to make them comfortable with again allowing the users of those addresses access to the Internet.

In one of the oddest developments I’ve heard so far, there are reports that certain communications protocols used by some games are not being blocked. We will not go into specifics here, but it seems strange indeed that the video game your mother didn’t want you playing all day might actually be a tool for surreptitious communication.

And with all that said, let’s wrap it up for today.

Here’s what we’ve learned: it is indeed hazardous to be a blogger in Iran.

Despite the fact that it can get you tortured or get you the death penalty, there are those who take the risk—including a former Vice-President who now finds himself under arrest.

We can help Iranian citizens by installing software on our own computers that helps them obtain uncensored Internet access, and about 1/3 of that traffic is getting through.

The regime is not attempting to permanently shut down all Internet traffic—and in fact, that would be a cure that might be as bad as the disease.

The Iranian Government, instead, is developing and operating a sophisticated system of Internet blocking, but it is not perfect…and there are odd connections that could be used that most people would never think of as useful for the purpose.

Finally, a Western company is accused of selling equipment to Iran that could be used for Internet monitoring, but the company in question denies that the gear they sold Iran can perform the tasks the accusers say it can.

It is rare indeed to be able to see two revolutions taking place at the same time–but as you’re watching the news from the newest Iranian Revolution…keep an eye on the news of the Internet Revolution as well.

WARNING—Self-promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation scholarship, and I was not selected in the first round of voting. There are two more chances to be selected…with an announcement due this week…so even if you’ve done so before, I still have to ask you to stop by the Democracy for America site and click on the “Add your support” link to offer your support for me again. Thanks for your patience, and we now return you to your regular programming.

 

On A May-December Romance, Part One, Or, Las Vegas, Segregated April 15, 2009

There may be no more recognizable icon of “Retro-Cool” than that photograph of the Rat Pack standing in front of the marquee at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

They’re right there, lined up in front of their own giant names on the marquee: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Night after night they would gather with friends such as Shirley MacLaine, Angie Dickinson, and Johnny Carson, to deliver some of the greatest nightclub performances in entertainment history.

Today’s story, however, focuses on what happened after the show: when four of those five could leave the showroom, drink at the bar, gamble at the casino, and go upstairs to their rooms.

In a town sometimes known as the “Mississippi of the West”, however, one of those five performers could not do any of those things.

Our Journey In Two Parts literally crosses over to the “wrong side of the tracks”, tells a story of segregation overcome, and recounts the six-month history of a Las Vegas hotel that has a 55-year history: the Moulin Rouge.

“…We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow-citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of “equal” accommodations…will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”

–Justice John Marshall Harlan, from the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

So let’s start with the “literally” part: Las Vegas’ “Westside”, which was the original Vegas townsite, was located across the “Cement Curtain” of railroad tracks from “new” Las Vegas, and it was the only place the black population was allowed to live.

This was not a new situation in Nevada, or unique to Las Vegas: when the Six Companies built what became Hoover Dam in the ‘30s, some say only 30 blacks are estimated to have been employed on the entire project. (Others put the number nearly 50% higher, suggesting 44 out of the workforce of 5000 were black.)

World War II had swollen Las Vegas’ population, and the “new” Vegas—the white Vegas—included the land that would eventually become The Strip. While blacks were allowed to work out of the Westside, beyond that area they could not own property…and they most assuredly could not be guests of the hotels and casinos in which they worked.

In fact, blacks who owned businesses beyond the borders of the Westside were “motivated” to move them there during the ‘40s.

By the early 1950s the Thunderbird, the El Rancho Vegas, and “Bugsy” Siegel’s Flamingo, among others, were drawing big crowds from Los Angeles and points beyond for the floor shows, lounge entertainment, and casino gambling.

With the exception of Josephine Baker’s performance at the El Rancho, blacks were generally not allowed among those crowds; and performers such as Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. were forced to stay in rooming houses or other accommodations on the Westside.

“In Vegas for 20 minutes, our skin had no color. Then the second we stepped off the stage, we were colored again…the other acts could gamble or sit in the lounge and have a drink, but we had to leave through the kitchen with the garbage.”

Sammy Davis, Jr.

At this point, a few words on Rat Pack history (and if you only click on one link in this story, this might be the one…).

Humphrey Bogart was the founder of the first Rat Pack; then called the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack”, after the Los Angeles neighborhood in which he and Lauren Bacall lived following their 1945 marriage. These Rat Packers included Judy Garland, “Swifty” Lazar (still considered one of the most notable agents in Hollywood history), and, eventually, Frank Sinatra.

This members of this group were not “Hollywood Society” types; as a result the Rat Pack spent a lot of its time up in the Holmby Hills…laughing at Hollywood Society over cocktails…making the odd trip to Vegas to spend a night out…and occasionally adjourning to fellow Rat Packers Mike and Gloria Romanoff’s restaurant…where the Hollywood Society types vied to be seen with them.

Upon Bogart’s death in 1957 Sinatra, partly because of his friendship with Bacall, was able to continue the Pack (at one point called “The Clan”; a name that was quickly dropped) with new members (and old friends) Dino, Sammy, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford (Not-Yet-President John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law), while still keeping continuity with Bogart’s Rat Pack. (Some might also describe Sinatra and Bacall’s romantic relationship following Bogart’s death as another part of that continuity.)

We’ve come a long way to get to this point, and we have a long way to go—which makes this a perfect “rest stop” between Parts One and Two.

A Barstow, if you will.

Way back at the beginning, we learned that blacks in Las Vegas really were living on the wrong side of the tracks, that separate was in no way equal; and that even if you were Louis Armstrong, or Lena Horne, or Sammy Davis, Jr., you might be allowed to work in white Las Vegas, but you weren’t going to be allowed to eat there, drink there, or sleep there…and you weren’t going to be allowed to gamble your paycheck away there, either.

In the meantime, Las Vegas was attracting entertainers—black and white—who would chafe at these rules. The group that would become the new Rat Pack was going to be at the heart of that change…and in our next installment, we’ll talk about six months of Las Vegas history that ultimately, despite great resistance, forced that change to happen.