I got a little shocker in the mail down the homestretch to last Tuesday’s midterm elections. A letter from the Shasta County Registrar of Voters with a blood-curdling first line:
“The signature on your ballot envelope did not match any signature on your voter registration records,” the letter said. It went on to demand that I provide a matching signature no later than Nov. 19, or else my mail-in ballot was all for naught.
“The Deep State,” I thought, “has finally caught up with me.”
I had a feeling this was going to happen. My full name listed on my mail-in ballot was “Robert Victor Scheide.” I’ve been signing my name “R.V. Scheide Jr.” since 1988, but after pausing, I figured I better sign with the name on the ballot, in the tiny rectangular box provided. Naturally, I tried to make it legible. A copy of my rejected signature came with the registrar’s letter.
“That’s my handwriting,” I thought. “WTF is going on here?”
I called the number on the letter from work. Eventually I was patched through to Sarah Murrietta, the registrar’s supervising staff services analyst. I told her the signature on the ballot was mine. She said it doesn’t match any of the signatures the registrar has on record. Yes, the staff had received training on matching signatures, she insisted.
“Impossible,” I thought to myself. “It’s the same signature that’s on my driver’s license.”
Murrietta encouraged me to just sign the form provided with my actual signature, mail it in with the pre-addressed, no-postage-provided envelope, and call her personally on Monday or Tuesday to make sure the letter was received and my vote was counted.
After we hung up, I pulled out my driver’s license and looked at the signature. The “R.V.” was clearly legible, done with my usual flourish. On the other hand, the “Scheide Jr.” begins with something that maybe looks like an “S” followed by a series of lazy, indecipherable squiggles that could be anything, ending in an abrupt backslash that only I would recognize as “Jr.”
I compared it the copy of my ballot signature. They might as well have been written by two different people. Murrietta was right! The handwriting didn’t match!
Furiously, I scrawled my actual signature, “R.V. Scheide Jr.”, in the ample space provided on the return form, four times larger than my normal signature and ending with a backslash “Jr.” that jutted halfway down the page.
I regretted signing it that way the second I dropped it in the mailbox. Rendered as it was in larger scale and heightened enthusiasm, I worried if this signature, too, would fail to match.
I was relieved to find that wasn’t the case when I called Murrietta on Tuesday, Election Day, and she returned the call within the hour. Yes, my letter had been received and my vote had been counted, she assured me.
She estimated upwards of 200 Shasta County mail-in ballots had been returned during this election cycle, many because voters had neglected to provide their signatures on the envelope. Most people, like me, respond quickly to the notice, and she said 30 such responses have been crossing her desk daily.
So. Not the Deep State. Just a local government agency doing its job.
That truly is a relief.
The Day After
I woke up Wednesday morning feeling pretty good. Daylight Saving Time agrees with my internal clock in the fall and the election turned out pretty much as forecast: Democrats seized control of the House with a net gain of 30 seats, Republicans strengthened their majority in the Senate with a net gain of three seats, President Donald Trump declared the split-decision a victory.
Local liberals and progressives (myself included) were bummed that Audrey Denney failed to unseat 1st District Rep. Doug LaMalfa, losing 56 percent to 44 percent, but I never expected her to win, I expected her to do well. It was a respectable performance, and Denney has built a substantial base of small local donors throughout the district to challenge LaMalfa again in 2020, should she choose to do so.
As for LaMalfa, he now finds himself in the minority, along with the House Freedom Caucus, so the never-ending efforts by right-wing Republicans to gut the social safety net, reproductive rights and environmental regulations will be somewhat blunted.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have options. They can use their newfound majority to push for single payer healthcare for all, relief for debt-burdened college graduates and a higher federal minimum wage, issues championed by Denney and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Latina who just won New York’s 14th District and will become the youngest women ever to serve in Congress.
Can these younger millennial Democrats who embrace socialism transform the party from its corporate centrist ways? Looks like we’re going to find out.
House Democrats will also take control of numerous committees in January, including the Judiciary, Intelligence and Finance Committees, and will now have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, including Trump’s long sought-after tax returns. With numerous Trump cabinet officials already under investigation and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, in special councilor Robert Mueller’s cross-hairs, it’s going to get ugly, sooner rather than later.
What’s the president think about all of this? Well, considering he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions first thing in the morning after the election, replacing him with an unqualified stooge known to be critical of Mueller’s Russia investigation, I’d say Trump is pretty damned rattled by the soon-to-be Democratic House majority.
In fact, Trump wasted no time turning the ugly up, assailing reporters as well as loser Republican candidates who didn’t embrace him on the campaign trail in yet another crazed, rambling press conference. He doesn’t hold many press conferences, but all of ‘em are doozies. Asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta if his characterization of the migrant caravan of Honduran refugees as an “invasion” demonized the refugees, Trump exploded like your grandma at the restaurant when the soup’s too cold.
“I’ll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them,” Trump scolded the hapless newsman. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
Later that evening, the White House yanked Acosta’s press pass. Another “enemy of the people” bites the dust. I went to bed with a smile on my face. Trump is definitely rattled. The next two months, not to mention the next two years, should be highly entertaining, assuming we survive them.
To be fair to Trump—and there’s no reason to be—Acosta was grandstanding a bit for the millions watching on cable and the internet. As former Daily Show host Jon Stewart recently commented, journalists who take on Trump in live encounters often end up playing Trump’s game, one he enjoys playing, his base enjoys watching, and networks can’t get enough of, because it drives up ratings.
The problem, for the news consumer, is you don’t really learn anything. The abundance of information on the Internet helps, but it also hurts. These days, a great deal of the content on so-called news websites, on the left and the right, simply regurgitates cable news stories about the latest Trumpian outrage that’s gone viral (just like I did above!). No one ever gets to the bottom of things, where the real Deep State hides in the shadows.
Multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is one shining exception to this rule. Hersh has been breaking the big stories for nearly 50 years, from the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal during the second Iraq War to the assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces during the Obama administration.
Hersh recounts these and his many other journalistic triumphs in his recently released memoir, Reporter (Knopf, $16.99 Kindle Version).
The 340-page memoir is a quick read, simply because Hersh often placed himself at the center of controversies that have defined our lifetimes, and it’s hard to put down. Most of the controversies revolve around the military-industrial-financial complex that represents the true Deep State in America, the politicians, military officers, intelligence operatives, defense contractors and Wall Street financiers who’ve been waging permanent war against countless enemies since the end of WWII.
A self-described loner, Hersh nevertheless has the gift of gab, and has used it throughout his career to get Deep State sources to talk to him anonymously, off the record. In all cases, the editors of his work were aware of who the anonymous sources were, and Hersh, a prodigious researcher, strove to find sources willing to go on the record to bolster their claims. It’s a technique he both pioneered and perfected, developing a life-long relationship with many of his sources.
Hersh’s work for the New York Times on Watergate and the New Yorker on foreign affairs is legendary, but the vast majority of mainstream journalism hasn’t followed his lead. Investigative journalism is expensive, and Hersh understands he’s one of the few lucky reporters who’s had the resources to conduct the work and the publishers willing to print it.
That’s changed a lot since Hersh’s heyday—it’s hard to say he had a heyday when his long, prestigious career is still ongoing at age 81—and lately he’s had to resort to publishing his scoops outside the United States. That’s where the state of American journalism is today.
If you’re interested in what real news might actually look like, Reporter is highly recommended.