"Democracy Undone" by Dale Tavris (ebook at barnes noble.com, amazon.com)
After reading this book, I am ashamed that I have taken the voter ID laws so lightly. I now see them as another brick in a very large wall of electoral outrages. Dale Tavris, a well-published medical researcher who has worked for the Election Defense Alliance to analyze data, has convinced me not only that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen, but that investigations into vivid fraud involving the 2004 Presidential election led to the murders of an investigator who'd discovered a smoking gun and a high-level IT consultant about to testify about it.
Before we get to the murders, Tavris clearly lays out all the ways our votes are compromised by officials who take Stalin's dictum on democracy to heart: "It's not important who votes. What's important is who counts the votes." The most indefensible voting outrage is the use of purely electronic voting. Voters have demanded that they be given a paper recording of their vote that they could put in a ballot box in case of a need for a recount; voters have demanded to judge the security and accuracy of the programs used to tabulate the votes; and the companies that make the machines and write the programs have simply refused to comply.
We all know about Florida's famous hanging chads but Tavris adds details I hadn't known. Voters on Palm Beach's infamous "butterfly ballot" who knew they had been fooled into voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Gore, and who tried to rectify their mistake by writing in "Al Gore" at the bottom, had their votes discarded in clear violation of the dictate to judge "voter intent" in a recount. And I did not know that the odd reasoning the Supreme Court used to stop the recount, they themselves said could not be used in any other election because, under that reasoning, every election in America would be invalid.
I also did not realize our country's strange coverup of the huge discrepancy between exit polls and actual voting. In Ohio, there was a five-point difference between how people said they voted and what the vote counters said were the results. In other countries, international monitors have used these discrepancies to invalidate elections. But in our country, what the news broadcasters who pay for the polling have done is change their exit polls after the fact to conform to the "official" vote, and then refuse to release the full data to investigators.
Sadly, we kindly Americans so want to believe in the honesty of our democracy that we cut short recounts and mutually conspire to cover up our doubts. Tavris also discusses all of the ways that money has corrupted the process. But he, and the publisher who's rushed this book out before the election, offer some hope and clear-cut advice as to what to do to help: Ban electronic voting; work at the polls yourselves and, most importantly, get outraged the next time a recount is cut short or you can in some other way see that the process being subverted. Harry Sawyer saw how the reduction in early voting was going to hurt turnout and he stood up to the political machine. We can too, and we must.
-- Reviewed by Rick Boettger
"Gone" by Randy Wayne White (Putnam, $25.95)
Sanibel-based fishing guide turned bestselling fiction and nonfiction writer Randy Wayne White is back. His latest offering is "Gone." But his fans are in for surprise. After writing 19 successful Doc Ford novels, he has a new protagonist, Hannah Smith, known to her friends as Hannah 4.
Hannah Smith first appeared in White's 1995 novel, "Captiva." She is a fishing guide and a somewhat reluctant private investigator. This fictional Hannah Smith is a composite descendent of two colorful characters in Florida history. The first is the widow Sarah McLain, known in the early 1900s as the Ox Woman. The somewhat reclusive 6-foot, 4-inch Ox Woman was a legendary resident of Long Key in the Everglades and reportedly as strong and tough as any man. She built her own shack, farmed her own land, butchered her own beef. The remaining portion of Hannah's personality was drawn from real-life female Sanibel fishing guide Esperanza Woodring. Woodring was an intimidating fishing guide with "a tongue like a sailor" who was still providing her fishing expertise to clients at age 92.
"Gone" begins with Hannah guiding a group of well-to-do clients on a fishing trip when they run into foul weather. Her adeptness and good judgment in handling the situation impress one of these clients, Lawrence Sessions, making him believe Hannah is just the person he's looking for to find his missing niece, Olivia, whom he believes is keeping company with a ruthless man who's after her $90 million inheritance. Hannah soon finds herself following clues that take her from the wealthy enclaves of Captiva Island to the Ten Thousand Islands. At the same time, Hannah is dealing with a personal issue of supervising the care of her mother who's suffered a debilitating stroke. The pressures and cost of her mother's care become the catalyst that convinces Hannah to reopen her deceased uncle's defunct detective agency.
White makes Hannah a believable character. She's not just a female Doc Ford, although Doc Ford and his spacy sidekick Tomlinson do make cameo appearances in the book. While Hannah had assisted her uncle in the detective agency when he was alive, she's still much more comfortable behind the wheel of her boat -- and is often quite the novice when it comes to investigative work.
White recently appeared before a standing-room-only crowd at the Vero Beach Book Center. He told the audience that Hannah Smith was originally supposed to be the protagonist of a stand-alone book but his publisher, G.P. Putnam, recently asked him to feature her as a new series character.
At the Book Center, White encouraged every person present to write, even if they have no intention of having their words published. The old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words is baloney, he said. A photo from years ago might jog a person's memory of that moment, but a written description will keep the memory alive for future family members and become a snapshot of the author's life and the time that he or she lived. He describes writing as the "anchor in the rocket-sled of life."
-- Reviewed by David
and Nancy Beckwith