Here’s something to vote for

Jan 7, 2004 at 12:00 am

Now hear this: I have for years behaved in a manner designed to cause today’s FBI to conclude that I may be a terrorist. What’s more, I have encouraged others to do the same, and have given some of my students the tools to do so.

And I intend to keep it up. For the first time ever, I am revealing publicly that I keep a copy of The World Almanac in the trunk of my car, as well as in my office.

Last summer, when on a working vacation driving through New England, I also carried with me an Almanac of American Politics, The Detroit Almanac, and our statewide equivalent, the Michigan Manual. Today, if I got stopped by the feds, that little library might get me an all-electrodes-free trip to Camp X-Ray.

What’s this all about? In case you haven’t kept up with the latest right-wing hysteria, here’s the scoop: The FBI sent a bulletin Christmas Eve to 18,000 police organizations nationwide, urging officers to watch for anyone carrying almanacs.

After all, the FBI said, they contain information about “bridges, dams, reservoirs, tunnels, buildings.” Perhaps if it hadn’t been for a quick riff through the old almanac, Mohammed Atta might have thought the World Trade Center was in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, as the feverish hunt for the almanac slayers was under way, Washington was persuading the French to ground six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles, because of suspected terrorists on board.

Unfortunately, as French police officials noted, with more diplomatic politeness than we deserve, our government don’t know how to transcribe them Arabic letters so good. They were all cases of mistaken identity. We held up one flight because of a suspect who turned out to be 5 years old. Other “terrorists” included an insurance agent from Wales, an elderly Chinese woman, and a prominent scientist.

Amusing, but all these things are reflections of the fact that what we have here is a government of right-wing ideologues, with their stooge-in-chief as figurehead. The Bush administration sees the world in a very different way from previous presidencies.

Dick Cheney’s Christmas card was a dead giveaway. There wasn’t any mention of brotherhood or any of that nonsense. Just this quote from Ben Franklin:

“And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

That’s what these birds mean to do, folks. They want to build an empire, called the earth, run by the United States of America. Other states can fall into line, pay tribute, send helots to help put down the barbarians, or be put on notice that they are liable to be taken over by the last remaining superpower.

Lovely. What we are facing this year isn’t a normal election. Everyone knows that if it hadn’t been for Ralph Nader and the Greens, George Bush would not be president and this would be, presumably, a saner world.

Yet it is easy to understand the frustration of those who think the Repubocrats are often not much better than the Demolicans. There will always be some people who want a third way. And now a few activists — led by Tom Ness, founder and grand pooh-bah of the Green House, a sort of political and cultural salon at Nine Mile and Woodward — have come up with a brilliant idea to improve democracy.

It is called IRV — Instant Runoff Voting. The goal is to give people the opportunity to take a principled stand and have the best possible outcome too. Stripped to its essentials, IRV would allow voters to pick a first- and second-place choice.

Then if — and only if — nobody got a majority of the votes, the second-place votes would be added to the candidates’ totals. Had this been available nationally in 2000, conservatives could have felt free to pick Pat Buchanan; progressives could have chosen Ralph Nader without worrying they would mess things up.

Studies show about 65 percent of the 97,000 Floridians who voted for Nader would have picked Gore as second choice. Bush would have gotten about 10 percent. That would have meant Florida would have gone to Gore by at least 50,000 votes.

Yet the Greens are, for once, behaving sensibly about this, and are not trying to get the nation to adopt IRV for national or even statewide elections. Not yet.

Instead, they are encouraging individual activists to push for IRV in their towns. Howard Ditkoff is the main force behind IRV at this moment, and he’s holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 8) in the Royal Oak Public Library to explain all this. Ditkoff is an interesting case; he’s a young psychiatrist who says he doesn’t practice because he is so turned off by the drug companies.

“The plan is to make our first attempt in Ferndale,” where the mayor and council are sympathetic and where only a few hundred signatures are needed to get on the November ballot. It is hard to think of a better idea than IRV. What it would mean is no wasted votes, no more having to vote only for “the evil of two lessers.” Too cumbersome? They already have it in San Francisco, where it works just fine. In the next few weeks, the weekly Mirror newspapers in south Oakland County will be conducting a fun test of IRV, possibly involving ice cream flavors.

The Case of the Too-Courteous Caucus: Without any doubt, Michigan Democrats have greatly improved their caucus system. So while I would still prefer a primary, I got on the Web site and asked for mail ballots for my wife and myself. My application went through fine, but the Democrats refused to give her one; they said she had to be 18. Alas, she isn’t. Hasn’t been, in fact … for more than 30 years. The next day, when I tried again, they relented. (And they’re ready for Internet voting, eh?)

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]