The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘voting’

THE LONGEST DAY

It began at four a.m., waking up, hitting the shower and making sure that my game plan was in order and ready for execution.  I seldom ate breakfast because my stomach was always nervous.  It was election day, another cold, bleak November morning – and time to place wake up calls to the lieutenants in the field – to make sure they were ready for the ensuing battle.  It was Chicago – and we were outnumbered and under-armed – but we would once again venture into the fray, if not expecting victory, intent on doing our best as a matter of civic pride and honor.  Despite the overwhelming odds we were going to give it our best shot – and make sure that each of our voters made it to the polls.

By six the polling place next door to my apartment building had opened for business.  It was the responsibility of my volunteer poll watchers to make sure that within the precinct no monkey business was conducted.  In some years, depending on the intensity of the election and the offices up for grabs, that proved more difficult.  But I had learned some tactics over the eight years I had engaged in this campaign and had pre-planned to minimize or negate the enemy’s tactics.  There’s one good thing about having your opponent stick with a tried and true plan.  They seldom deviated from it – which provided as much insight as the opposition coach getting his hand on the other team’s playbook.

My Democrat counterpart was an efficient woman who had run the precinct as though it was her own (and it pretty much was) for decades.  Although it could never be proven, her job with the Corporation Counsel’s office depended on her getting out her voters and bringing in the precinct with both a vast Democrat majority and a large percentage of voters having cast their ballots.  The goal was 100% of those who had registered as Democrats.  She usually came pretty close to bringing in that number.

But for those who had indicated no party affiliation on their registration she had one last tool that she had employed with success for many elections – a last minute reminder that the Chicago machine wanted them to have before they cast their ballot.

Officially, there was to be no “politicking” within 100 feet of the entrance to the polling place.  So the night before the election she would park her car directly in front of the entrance and put placards and bumper stickers within the car – and leave it there.  The car was parked legally, even if the material in the windshield and side windows was not supposed to be displayed.  That year I beat her to the punch.  I waited until that space was available a few days earlier and parked my car there – and then took the bus to work until election day.  She was not amused at my defusing her strategy – and on election day she let me know that in no uncertain terms.  Despite my having acquired this most desirable spot, I did respect the laws and did not have any political placards within the car.

In those days, prior to early voting, election day was the day for casting a ballot.  The number of absentee ballots represented a fraction of one percent of eligible votes that would be cast.  So the primary job was to make sure that my voters got to the polls.  In close co-ordination with the poll watcher who was keeping track of who had voted, this meant placing calls, ringing doorbells and, most importantly, transporting those who were elderly to the polls by car.  Of course I had to rent a car for the day as mine was situated in front of the polling place’s door.  I didn’t have a cushy job with the city or any other government agency – so I bore that expense myself.

On election day there was usually a large group of voters who would show up as soon as the polls opened so that they could do their duty and then go to work.  After that initial flurry it quieted down with people coming in sporadically through the midmorning and early afternoon.  This was an ideal time for me to garner my voters and drive them to the poll.  As we approached the closing at seven p.m., the pace picked up once again.  And after the last voter in line had cast her ballot, the poll was officially declared closed by the Judges of Election.  It was now time to record the results from the back of the voting machines.

Someone once said, “It isn’t how you voted – it’s who counts the votes.”  That someone must have been a Chicago resident.  As the two Judges read off the tally for each office, my poll watchers and I verified the accuracy of the number they claimed was on the machine – and one of us watched as that number was written down on the official tally sheet.  On more than one occasion we found that “237” was written down as “327”.  Perhaps it was an honest mistake – or perhaps not.  The Democrats talk about their famous ground game – and transposition of numbers was part of it – at least in the Windy City.

Fortunately, because of the lulls in voting during much of the day, I had the opportunity to run home and walk and feed the dogs.  I think they sensed that something was up and they weren’t going to be on their normal schedule.  My Irish Setter, Tristan gave me a look that said, “Why are you doing this to me?”  But he was a forgiving sort and I always tried to have an extra special dinner for him and his Belgian Shepherd/Newfoundland mix companion, Josh.  Josh was a lot more tolerant than his compadre.  So the two of them got their dinner off schedule and after they had eaten I returned to the poll for the countdown.

Other than in years when there were a large number of judicial paper ballots, I usually got home at nine, after recording all the numbers for each office on my own tally sheet to be turned in to Republican headquarters to make sure that they hadn’t been changed en route to the Chicago Board of Elections’ offices when the official canvass was conducted later in the week.  In one respect, there are those who might consider this an exercise in futility as the final score was always lopsided: Democrats – a million; Visitors – forty-seven.

Looking at the final tally, a reasonable person might argue that, “Only an idiot or a masochist would expend the amount of time and effort just to prove that once again he or she would go down in flames.”  But to my way of thinking, my job, irrespective of how bleak the results, was to get out every one of the comparatively few votes on which I could rely – and if I succeeded in doing that – I had accomplished my mission.

The other day at his news conference, President Obama, in commenting on the election results, made the point that, “Two thirds of the eligible electorate didn’t vote.”  Somehow we were to take that as a tacit endorsement by those non-voters that they approved his policies and had they bothered to show up, things would have been different.  That statement stems from pure vainglory and wishful thinking on the president’s part.

We have made it so easy to vote – in my view, too easy – that those who do not exercise this fundamental right and obligation, have no voice in the discussion.  They themselves, not restrictive voter ID laws, bad weather or any other excuse, are responsible for their lack of civic duty.  And if they want to stay home again two years from now, it would be fine with me.

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LESSONS FROM FAR AND WIDE

What do Hong Kong and Ferguson, MO have in common?  Well, they’ve both been in the news as places where the residents have taken to the streets, protesting against government authorities.  And that’s where their similarity begins and ends.

Hong Kong and Ferguson are 7,934 air miles apart – or at least that was what I determined from a very neat program on the internet.  While I might not fully subscribe to the concept of global warming, I do have much greater faith in Al Gore’s other invention – the internet.  I do remember him saying that it was his creation.

Hong Kong has had a long and often rocky history.  Starting as little more than a local fishing village it became part of the Chinese empire.  Then the British took it over, elevating it to the status of Royal Crown Colony.  Finally, the English negotiated a lease with China and ceded it back to the PRC.  It purportedly holds a quasi-autonomous status.  And that is at the heart of the disturbances by protesters in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong ranks eleventh on the list of countries based on GDP per individual, just behind the United States.  By contrast, mainland China, despite the tremendous economic boom it has seen in the last twenty years ranks ninety-seventh.  That is, obviously, attributable in part to its massive population.  But not only does Hong Kong enjoy greater economic opportunity for its citizens – it offers far more personal freedom than those on the mainland enjoy.  The opportunity to earn more and live a better life is what the turmoil in Hong Kong is all about.

There is probably no mentally healthy person on the planet who wouldn’t want to live an easier, better life.  But there are challenges to achieving that goal.  While a person who has little financial expertise may have difficulty making wise investments which will help him or her achieve a more secure future, that person can get an education in finances or, lacking the desire or ability to do that, can higher an advisor who can guide him.  But the greatest threat to accumulating wealth is something over which none of us has control.  That grim reaper which rapes prosperity is government spending – or put in a one word explanation – taxes.  And it is those whom we elect to public office who determine out tax codes.

A few days ago, President Obama went on Al Sharpton’s radio show, (who knew he even had one) and made what is perhaps the most truthful statement he has uttered while either running for or during his time in office.  Obama, talking about those Democrat candidates in red states running for election to the Senate, all of whom has pretty much eschewed even knowing who he is, said (paraphrase),  “They all support me and my policies.  But they have to say or do what they have to say or do to get re-elected.  I don’t take their distancing themselves from me personally.”

I think all of us hope, perhaps even while believing otherwise, that we can rely on what a candidate promises.  We believe because we want to, that person X or Y will really bring a meaningful, positive change to government.  But the influence which most find once they get to Washington seems almost irresistible and if it doesn’t corrupt by the end of a person’s first term, by the second it seems that the allure of power is something which sweeps virtually all up in its web.  But those who believe in the political process and are hopelessly optimistic, continue to get involved in these contests as they present themselves, perhaps justifying years of disappointment with the thought that, “This time it may be different.”

Perhaps the fairly recent introduction of democratic elections is why those in Hong Kong have shown such ardent fervor in their rejection of the PRC’s position that they and they alone will determine for whom the people of Hong Kong should have the opportunity to vote.  The residents of Hong Kong realize that if they do not have the chance to elect people who share their personal and economic visions which have transformed this small island into a comparative paradise, they may lose what they have worked to achieve and their vision for an even better future will perish.  It is in free elections that they put their stock – even if cynics like myself – wonder if that is really the panacea which will deliver us from the bonds of turpitude and incompetence.

Returning to Ferguson, MO, the protests have been ongoing since Michael Brown’s death on August 9th.  Without trying to adjudicate this case as has been so completely done by the media, the primary cause which is advanced for these protests is that an unarmed black man was gunned down by a white police officer and was “executed.”  The underlying premise is that white policemen routinely feel it is within their purview to dispose of black males with impunity and that such acts are condoned generally by a racist society.

The predominantly black community of Ferguson has demanded that “justice be done,” which translates to “hang the white cop.”  But even though their approach to justice is not dissimilar from the mindset which motivated the Klan during its reign of terror, there is the undertow that even if Officer Wilson is put on trial, that trial is prejudiced to acquit him because justice for whites is far less just than it is for blacks, whites being generally acquitted because of their skin color and blacks being convicted because of theirs.

If we accept this view of the justice system, obviously there is little justice to be rendered for anyone whose skin color is black.  That leaves very few alternatives, one being either to move to another jurisdiction where justice is meted out more equitably; another country where justice is determined more fairly; or change those who are in control of the judicial system, replacing them with people who are more likely to treat everyone equally.  That can only come about through the ballot box – something that residents of Hong Kong seem to comprehend quite well.

Given the fact that most people don’t want to move unless they must, it seems natural that most people would gravitate to the third of the alternatives outlined above.  Yet in Ferguson, only eleven percent of the eligible electorate has even bothered to register to vote.  Several weeks ago there was a big news flash that the number of people in Ferguson who had registered, presumably because of the controversy generated by Michael Brown’s death, had swelled in number.  The Missouri Secretary of State later corrected that statement, citing the fact that they had looked at the wrong data base when they issued that announcement.  In fact, there were now still only 11.6% of the population in that city who had elected to exercise their right to the franchise.

If the citizens of Hong Kong are successful in their efforts to make their voices heard and have the opportunity freely to choose those who represent them, it will be to their credit.  And if the citizens of Ferguson continue to live under what they consider repressive and unfair conditions, they will have no one and nothing to blame but themselves and their own indifference.

IN LIMBO

If the name Ernest Evans doesn’t roll off your tongue, perhaps you know this singer better under his stage name, Chubby Checker.  Of course, his biggest hit was “The Twist” – but he came close with another song in 1962 – “The Limbo Rock.”

This upbeat song was  composed in response to a great deal of tourism that took place – particularly for those of us on the east coast  – to that island paradise of Jamaica in the Caribbean.  The “Limbo” was a popular dance on the island.

As you probably know, several people hold up a “limbo stick” and the dancers go under it – all to the beat of some calypso music.  The stick is lowered after each round of dancers goes under and the winner of the contest is that dancer who can go under the limbo stick at its lowest level.

I’m not sure exactly why this came to mind today.  It’s been years – perhaps even a decade since I heard the “Limbo Rock.”  I remember always feeling upbeat after listening to it – and after looking at today’s news I guess I needed a little pick me up.

My thought was that in the fifty years since the “Limbo Rock” was a hit we have answered the question that Chubby Checker poses in that song – “How low can you go,?” at least as far as it pertains to the behavior we find acceptable in those whom we elect to public office.  That answer is lower than ever previously thought possible.

Perhaps you’ve been following Anthony Wiener’s attempt to return to politics by running as a candidate in the New York mayoral race.  If you have, you may have seen that he has hit the lowest “favorability rate” thus far in the contest at only 11%.  Now with eight million people in the “Naked City” that means there are nearly nine hundred thousand people who don’t seem offended or disgusted by his well-publicized sexting behavior.

Alright, those aren’t all registered voters.  Perhaps there are only a quarter of those who will be casting ballots.  But that means that there are over two hundred thousand people in my home town who don’t see a problem with this sort of behavior and who think that a person who has demonstrated an ability to execute very poor life choices is competent to run our largest city.

When the Wiener scandal first broke (no it’s not a phony scandal – we reserve those for events that come out of Washington) and Wiener was fighting for his political life and to retain his seat in Congress, I listened to several of his press conferences.  To be honest, the then Congressman seemed sincere in admitting that he had made some mistakes and that he was a “new man.”  Just as I would like to receive the benefit of the doubt and a second chance if I had done something wrong – I was willing to extend the same to him.

But then we found out that sincere apology was just smoke and didn’t represent the Congressman’s actual behavior.  Ultimately, additional information came out that clearly showed the sexting in which the Congressman had engaged was on-going.  And it has continued even since his resignation which has resulted in his extremely low approval ratings in the mayoral race.

I guess my disgust with this situation is not that we have people serving in public office whose values are questionable.  That is disturbing.  But what really bothers me is that the Congressman flat-out lied to his constituents and to the country without any sense of shame or remorse.

There is nothing that turns me off faster than someone who is a liar.  I’m not talking about a person who might tell an occasional fib.  I’m speaking of someone who has elevated lying to an art and a pathology.  And the fact that we have so many examples of this bad behavior among elected officials right now speaks directly to the reason that there is so much turmoil in the country.

That bad behavior is not restricted to the Democrats.  There are a significant number of politicians on the other side of the aisle who need to take a close look in the mirror as well.

There is only one reason that they are able to get away with this sort of behavior.  We the people permit it – in fact we endorse it – by mindlessly returning to office people who have demonstrated that their only interest in being in public office is because of the prestige that it brings and how it fulfills their own agendas – not how their constituents might benefit from their advocacy.

As distasteful as politics is to many of us, we have no right to sit back and complain about the economy, the jobless rate, the lack of standards and morality or anything else unless we are willing to get our hands dirty and get involved in the process.  If we refuse to participate, we are as much a part of the problem as those who misrepresent themselves and get elected.

I’m not sure what – if anything – will wake most of the American populace from its lethargy.  Maybe it’s just a matter of time until things get bad enough that even the most uninvolved wake up, take notice and then take action.

Until then, I guess we’ll all just limp along – in limbo.

A BIT MORE SPITZ-ER SPUTUM

Over the past several weeks, a number of my friends and I have discussed the moral bankruptcy which seems to abound in the America of 2013.  It doesn’t matter whether we turn to movie stars, professional athletes or politicians, it’s pretty much the same theme.

The good news is that I can (and do) ignore the movie stars and pro athletes who believe that they are God’s gift to mankind and refuse to patronize them by boycotting their product.  Let them carry on as they will – but they will not see a single cent of mine to support them by attending their films or going to or watching their games on television.  They are essentially irrelevant to me.

Now when it comes to politicians that is a horse of a different color – or in Mr. Spitzer’s case a whore of a different color.  This is not a statement of malevolence directed at those ladies of the evening – although one could certainly question their taste.  No this is directed personally toward Mr. Spitzer.

The genesis for this was a comment that I heard this evening at the dog park.  It was not specifically about Mr. Spitzer – in fact the conversation centered around a Hip Hop “artist” who had recently been arrested for a DUI.  But the principle is the same.

The commentator said, “Well, I still like his music.  I don’t care what he does in his personal life.  We shouldn’t worry about that because it’s none of our business.”  What a load of tripe!

I am going to ignore that in this case the fact that we have an impaired driver navigating a vehicle which causes about thirty-five thousand deaths each year in this country is or at least should be a concern for all of us – particularly for those who are in his vicinity.

And I am going to ignore the question of the morality of Mr. Spitzer’s hiring call girls.  I do not want to be part of the tribunal that determines standards of morality and tries to impose them on everyone else.  So my repulsion toward Mr. Spitzer strictly is a function of my view of his disregard for his office.

Whether or not prostitution is moral; whether or not it should be legalized; it is in virtually all jurisdictions currently illegal.  That’s the fact – plain and simple.

Because of my libertarian view, I might well be willing to sign a petition to change the status of that business.  But no one has yet presented me with one – so I believe that I will eschew the company of “escorts” (of either sex) and perhaps re-evaluate my position at a later date.

How a person could make the statement, as did the chap at the dog park, that “what a person does in his personal life is no one’s business” is beyond me, when the person in question happens to be a public servant.  And most especially, when that public servant happens to be the chief law enforcement officer of a state – as was Mr. Spitzer when he served as New York’s Attorney General.

It would be a remarkable thing if some of today’s total martial arts fighters left the ring and, to supplement their income until their next bout, taught a morning class in Origami and then spent their afternoons giving seminars in sensitivity training.  I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon.

Over the years I have had the privilege of knowing several people in the business of politics who were men of great personal character and dignity and who took those qualities with them to work, representing their constituents in the most conscientious and ethical manner.  I would have expected no less from them.

It was, in fact, knowing them personally which convinced me that the same positive attributes they displayed as friends and neighbors would be the way in which they would discharge the positions to which the public had entrusted them.  I was not disappointed with my assessment in any of their cases.

Good character is hard to find.  If I could make one contribution to mankind it would be to invent a potion which, if taken regularly, would enable a person to acquire it.  If I were clever enough to invent such a tonic, I can think of several politicians including Mr. Spitzer to whom I would ship a free lifetime supply.

I only wonder if any of them would dare to try it.

WHAT, ME BOTHER?

My instructor in debating emphasized I don’t know how many times, that engaging in “ad hominem” arguments was a major no-no.  In other words, it was appropriate – even desirable – to make counter arguments to those your opponent set forth – but it was not acceptable to say something like, “Well, I’m not surprised to hear you say that.  That’s just the kind of thing I would expect from someone as ugly as you.”

Those instructions really stuck with me.  Therefore, it is difficult for me to “attack” someone without feeling at least a small quiver of guilt that I might be engaging in that sort of argumentation.  Fortunately, I have been able to resolve this dilemma by substituting an “ad hominid” argument in place of the tabooed “ad hominem” one.

As you know, the family “Hominidae” includes both man and our fossil ancestors.  I am not sure if the classification covers Neanderthals – but for my purposes I’m going to include them as well.  (This is a modern day and I feel fully entitled to mold the facts to my liking just in case I ever want to apply for a position on the staff of “The New York Times”).

So, speaking of Neanderthals, as you probably know, Eliot Spitzer is running for the position of Comptroller of my birthplace, New York City.  It’s been five years since he resigned his position as governor over some minor, habitual inappropriateness with a stable of high end hookers.  Amazingly, his wife Silda has stuck with him during what must have been an extremely difficult time for her.

During Spitzer’s tenure as Attorney General, he mercilessly attacked both the New York Stock Exchange and the financial industry for their outrageous behavior.  (This, of course, included something that was really not his business – executive compensation).  Now considering his personal habit of dropping twenty grand for a night of pleasure with his sex partners, one has to wonder how he defines “excessive”.

But there is one thing that Mr. Spitzer has not done excessively.  That is take the time and exercise his responsibility to vote.  Yes, he was “so busy” last year around election time – flying to California to do a TV show – that he neither got around to procuring an absentee ballot nor did he show up personally on Election Day.

We all make mistakes and certainly an important public figure must have many demands on his time.  I presume that explains his similar failure to get out to vote on two previous occasions – in 2007 and 2003.  In his defense, he did cast a ballot in each election in which he was running for orifice office.

With what might be called a “checkered career,” it is hard to imagine what line of work Mr. Spitzer might next pursue should his bid to return to public office fail this November.  Perhaps he might want to team up with sexting star, Anthony Wiener, whose run for Mayor seems to have taken an abrupt turn for the worse with the revelation that long after he was “cured of his bad behavior,” new photos and messages have started to surface.

I can see the two of them working together as a comedy team, perhaps calling themselves, “Latke and Hamentash”.  I’m sure that the duo would play well to OWS – or any other group that includes Neanderthals in its membership.

alfredeneuman

SELECTIVE JUSTICE

The mob that gathered last Saturday to voice their negative opinion of the George Zimmerman acquittal did get one thing right.  Whether or not one agrees with their premise that the basis for Mr. Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict was the result of a justice system that punishes minorities more harshly than it does whites, they are correct in saying that anytime anyone is either convicted or acquitted of a crime because of something extraneous to the facts of the case, there is an inequity which has prevailed – and all of us should protest against it.

Why should we protest such a miscarriage of justice – especially if we happen to like a particular verdict?  The answer is little more than “self-preservation”.  If we close our eyes to this sort of behavior in someone else’s case, who knows how long it will be before a corrupt political system finds reason to place us in the defendant’s box?

This administration, beginning with President Obama and continuing with Atty. Gen. Eric Holder have demonstrated a continuing pattern and practice of engaging in precisely such behavior – not only in violation of their oaths of office but to the general degradation of our legal system and ultimately to the detriment of every American.

It is hard, other than for political reasons, for me to understand the administration’s resistance to requiring people to provide proof of identity before they are allowed to vote.  When I write a check for groceries, the store wants to verify who I am.  (I don’t blame them).  When I call my gas or electric or telephone or cable TV provider to make an inquiry on the phone, they ask for the last four digits of my Social Security number and my DOB.  (I don’t blame them).

Why, then is it such a big deal that a person be required to prove that he is the person who he or she claims to be before being handed a ballot?  In fact, I believe that if we want to talk about discrimination in voting (as the Atty. General recently has regarding changes in the voting rules in a Texas county), I believe a strong case could be made about the disenfranchisement of legitimate voters by allowing people who do not have that right to vote in our elections.

There are only a few plausible explanations:

1)  The Administration is more concerned with getting people who support their agenda to vote them and their cronies into office than they are in upholding the Constitution;

2)  The Administration is terminally brain-dead and doesn’t have a clue that voting “irregularities” occur.  (If President Obama had lived his entire life in Alaska rather than a good portion of it in Chicago, there might be more believability in this);

3)  The Administration is vindictive and selective in its enforcement of the laws of the land;

4)  The Administration, having been called on by the mob to bring “Justice to Trayvon”, realizing there is no basis for their further pursuing this, need yet another distraction to show that they’re on the side of the “oppressed”;

5)   The Administration is just down right upset at the recent passage of tighter abortion regulations in Texas and is trying to appease one of its most faithful voting blocs.

That Atty. Gen. Holder’s new initiative comes in response to the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down key portions of the Voting Rights bill as being currently irrelevant is particularly disturbing.  There is a reason that the Founding Fathers ordered government divided into three equal parts.

Perhaps the president and the AG missed that semester in law school.

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THE MOST HATED MAN IN AMERICA

Because my high school English teacher had a philosophy that education was not confined to the school term, each year we were given a summer assignment which we were expected to complete and turn in on our return in the fall.

At the end of my junior year we were told to select an American author, read at least three novels or plays by him or her as well as a biography and write a term paper of no less than 25 pages in length.  When I was given this assignment I selected Sinclair Lewis as my author subject..

I will admit to a bit of deviousness on my part in this selection as I had already read two of his novels, “Main Street” and “Babbitt” and I had asked my parents for the extensive biography which Mark Schorer had written several years earlier as a birthday present.  But I would also have to say that I enjoyed Lewis’ acerbic style and his descriptions of life in America and I looked forward to reading several more of his works.

I threw myself head first into the project by reading “Dodsworth” and by the time that I had finished it my birthday had come around and the Lewis biography was beautifully gift wrapped and ready for my eager eyes.  I tore into it rapaciously.

When I finished the biography I read six more of Lewis’ novels including “It Can’t Happen Here” which was published in 1935 and was a parody of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  The work was transposed to a sleeping America where the electorate allowed themselves to be seduced by a charismatic populist leader who bought their votes by offering them small sops, (the kitchen in every pot syndrome).

Ultimately, he consolidated his near unanimous support to assume dictatorial powers.  But some few, true stalwarts who saw the insidious nature of this new dictator resisted and so the Second American Revolution was born.  Perhaps you will see a corollary between this book written 78 years ago and today’s events.

Lewis was a fiercely partisan American.  While his books often pointed to the pettiness of small-minded middle American individuals, nevertheless he believed that our people and our country, with all their faults, was the modern Prometheus and the shining beacon lighting the way for the whole world.

But because he was not afraid to tell it like it was, he had no compunctions about insulting anyone whom he felt was tarnishing the American dream and all who were hypocritical in the morality they preached and the immorality they lived.  This caused Lewis to earn the moniker, “The most hated man in America.”

(And you thought this post was going to be about George Zimmerman, didn’t you)?

More on Lewis in the next post.

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