Ron Sullivan Returns From The Hospital
He had part of his cancerous colon cut out. He should be back to work in a couple of weeks.
AVN President Paul Fishbein Marries Ex-Porn Star Cherry Rain
He had a bachelor party Thursday night and the wedding Saturday. Now he's on a honeymoon and will be back to work in a couple of weeks.
Book Soup hosted a full-house (about 25% female, including Neil's girlfriend) for author Neil Strauss (who ghosted Jenna Jameson's autobiography) Thursday night.
I sat in front of two young women who were huge fans of Jenna's book.
Neil: "How many people here are from the community?"
About 15% of the room raises its hands.
Neil: "Now you know who to watch out for."
Neil reads a poem he wrote in 11th grade about his sexual frustration and fear of women.
He says he's always been afraid of women. He went through highschool without a girlfriend. Then he went to Vassar college and didn't get laid once. Then he became a rock critic, but was no more successful.
Neil says Marilyn Manson's manager remembers how Neil would call from a girl's apartment while she was out on a date. "I was always the nice guy."
"I toured with Motley Crue. The only person I kissed was Tommy Lee.
"One night I was at Dublins and I started making out with this girl and I felt really good about myself. We separated and she said, 'Everyone here must think you're a producer.' Otherwise there'd be no reason why a girl like that would be making out with a guy like me."
A book editor at Regan Books, Jeremy, told Neil to write a how-to book on how to pick up women. "Guys with weird names like Mystery, Ross Jeffries, were telling people the formula on what it meant to be an alpha male and a way to talk to women that turns them on.
"I went to the online newsgroups and tried to figure out how to fix my problem 15-years too late."
Neil got into the seduction community because he wanted to be more successful with women. He eventually met the pick-up artist Mystery at a work-shop. "He was taking six guys out for four nights in a row and he was going to teach them how to meet women and point out women in clubs and get you to talk to them."
Mystery said you had to bring four things to his workshop: Pen, paper, chewing gum, and condoms.
"Mystery was this 6'5" illusionist in a sports coat and goth kit."
They met at The Standard hotel (8300 Sunset Blvd), which is the epicenter of the seduction world.
Mystery walked in and stole Scott Baio's girlfriend.
Scott Baio turned to Neil and said, "Is this guy an illusion or is he actually stealing my girlfriend?"
Right then, Strauss knew that this stuff worked.
Neil says there are these seduction communities in every city of the world.
He reads an email from a guy who was running all these seduction techniques on a woman, only to find out 20-minutes later, that she was a prostitute.
"Peacocking" means dressing to attract attention.
One email says that Halloween is a great time to pick up women because they are hyper from all the sugar and it comes naturally to act cocky on that night.
One email guy wonders if he should use the money he spends on seduction courses on Tijuana hookers. When he's with such a hooker, he pretends she's his girlfriend and that builds his confidence. When he told one he wanted to lick her a--hole, she said that will be $10 more.
One email guy wonders which is the best anti-depressent to take for jacking off (many drugs make ejaculation difficult) otherwise the guy will be wanking it for 20-minutes and become exhausted.
Neil says his girlfriend was fine with the book -- except for 20 pages and he tries to protect her from them.
Luke: "Did you get depressed hanging out with this world?"
Neil: "Before this, I was hanging out with writers and musicians, a very exciting cool world. I never got depressed [with the seducers]. To do this, you have to leave behind your old friends. As Oprah says, when fat people lose weight, their friends don't like that because your weight made them feel good about their own inadequacies. Friends don't want you changing."
Many of the seducers such as Neil rented Dean Martin's old house above Mel's Diner with Courtney Love.
Neil says that even the best pick-up artists feel scared about approaching women. "The better you get, the more fear there is. The first time, all you have to do is start a conversation and that's a success."
A tall attractive woman complains that her boyfriend is addicted to using these techniques on women.
Strauss brought up Cameron, a Persian-American salesman by day who teaches classes on how to pick up women (attractadate.com).
Cameron says that the only thing Mystery loves more than women is the sound of his own voice.
"Mystery will do anything he feels like at the time -- kidnap your dog, screw your girlfriend, steal your wife, slash your tires and he'll say, 'It was my emotional circuitry.'"
Cameron makes fun of Neil's "I care about you" face.
Those rumors are going around.
Kevin Beechum Ain't A Gangster
Jackie Clams writes:
Joanna Angel Cricket Cricket Cricket Cricket Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna, Eve Mayfair Joanna, Eve T.T. Boy's uncle Dirty Harry Eve Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Harry, Joanna Joanna Joanna Joanna Riley Riley Riley Riley Sean, Riley Riley Riley, Harry Riley Riley
I meet Joanna Angel for the first time. I get her to put me on the phone with her mom, an Israeli. (Joanna's dad has a PhD in Jewish History, but works in business as a consultant, and Joanna was raised Orthodox).
I ask mom what she thinks about Joanna's porn career. Her mom hates it. She says that Joanna fell in with a bad crowd and that's why she made such a bad decision. "She doesn't understand what she's doing is wrong."
Joanna's receiving make-up while we talk.
Mom: "What can I do? There's nothing I can do. I love her. I respect her. I can not give my daughter up. We're all crazy about her. Her two sisters, my husband, tried hard. We can't blame ourselves. We do everything not to lose the relationship.
"We all thought it wouldn't continue long but it does. It becomes more and more serious.
"Nobody knows where she got this from. I believe it is very dangerous. I'm very sorry about it. I've very ashamed about it. It's not our way.
"She did me a favor. She stays away from the people I work with, the synagogue I go to.
"She loves me. Usually people like that never see the parents. We do. I don't know when it's going to stop.
"I think it's the money.
"We did everything for her. We paid for Rutgers. She's the only person who went in that direction. I don't know if there's something wrong with her. She seems like a normal healthy girl."
Luke: "I think it's the attention."
Mom: "She gets plenty of attention. I've never seen a person who doesn't like Joanna.
"Maybe you'll be the one to convince her that what she's doing is wrong."
Luke: "I try. I'm [a certain thing]."
Mom, pleased: "Oh, you are? Keep it as a secret. We'll give you money if you can convince her. Any somebody tells her that what she's doing is wrong, she won't talk to him. She's got a thousand people agreeing with her. She's in the wrong crowd.
"I tell her that these people don't give a damn about her. It's good for him and not for her. The people who work with her are destroying her."
Luke: "She's a star in this world."
Mom: "She could be a star in any world. Why does she have to choose this world?
"I don't know what to tell you. My only wish is that at least she use her money to help the Jewish people. But she doesn't. Everybody tries to suck as much money as they want from her.
"I'd do anything for her."
Luke: "Why did she go to a secular highschool instead of a Jewish school?"
Mom: "That was very bad. I tried to fight it. My husband couldn't pay the money for a Jewish school. He was the only income in the house.
"What she's doing doesn't take any effort.
"She loves to write. She doesn't want to take money from her parents. She has something to live on [via porn], but she doesn't have anything to live for.
"I can't live without my religion and culture. It's not just something to live on, but something to live for. She does one thing for the money."
Luke: "She wants to feel like a star."
Mom: "She can feel like a star without doing that."
Luke: "But this is the easiest."
Mom: "She can write about anything."
Luke: "But that would take effort."
Mom: "Why does she have to write about this subject if she has the talent?
"She loved [doing Jewish things] but she didn't have a friend. When she left the house, that was a problem. The people she surrounded herself had no values. That's why she ended up here.
"I asked her to go to my country [Israel]. My brother could help her. She could be the representative of those people. But she can not go down to their level.
"She's so smart that she managed to convince her sister and my husband [that what she was doing with burningangel.com and porn] was ok. I was against it. He's a PhD person. He says, 'Oh, that's nothing. Oh, she's stuck.' But then she gets sucked in more and more."
Luke: "How does your husband deal with what Joanna's doing?"
Mom: "He always thought that this was not the only thing she's doing. She's doing other things. She models. She does entertainment. Nobody can believe that she's still doing this. Everybody says, 'Don't say anything or you'll lose her.'
"I used to think that being smart was the most important thing. Joanna is so smart. Now I don't think that being smart is so important.
"I wish she'd come home. She can come home anytime. But it doesn't seem like she will. Why do this when her parents will support her?
"I hope you're not going to ruin your relationship with her by telling her..."
Luke: "She knows what I think. I don't preach at her."
We say goodbye after more than 20-minutes on the phone. Joanna has been looking at me much of the time, amusement and concern alternating in her expression.
When I summarize the converstion to Joanna, she laughs. "I'd do this for free," says Joanna. "For a date with Malachi Ecks [production manager]. For macaroni and cheese."
Eve Mayfair: "Better than for a puppy."
Serena Sinn told me a few weeks ago that she was going to do anal so she could buy a puppy. I've heard more jokes about that than anything I've ever written.
I ask Joanna if she was molested as a kid.
"I wish my dad molested me," she says. "It was the other way round. I was ignored. I would've loved for my dad to molest me. He wouldn't even talk to me."
Malachi tells me: "You've got more material than you can use."
Neu Wave Hookers is the first feature VCA has released since LFP bought it. The movie has four times the budget of Eon McKai's previous movies.
Dirty Harry, a former bus driver, got his nephew T.T. Boy (whose brother Talon is also a porn performer) into the business in 1992. Harry's sons work in porn too. One is a cameraman (who occasionally has to shoot his dad having sex, but they're both professionals, so it's no big deal) and another is a PA.
Harry's been doing scene for two-and-a-half years. "I retired [from driving a bus]. I traveled around the world. I bought a business. It went broke. I had to get into something, so I got into porn. I PA'd [production assistant] for a while and then I thought, why don't I do talent? I had done a few movies for T.T. Boy in 1997. It pays more money and it's more fun.
"I introduced T.T. in 1992 to Elliot Spegal from Western Visuals. From there he went to Jim South's office.
"My son Jacob (in porn since 18, he's now 25) shoots camera exclusively for T.T. and he shoots me in the movies. My other son Sean is a gaffer. He's been in the business since he was 18.
Sean is the scariest looking guy you'll ever see (with 'Today I kill, tomorrow I'm king' tattooed across his shoulder) but behaves in a gentle way.
Both sons are heavily tattooed.
Harry, 54, says if it wasn't for porn, his sons would be gangbangers. "Talon is my nephew."
Luke: "Is he still in the gay industry?"
Harry: "No, he never did that."
Luke: "Is he in the straight industry now?"
Harry: "He's in the straight industry."
Luke: "What's it like doing a scene when your son is doing camera?"
Harry: "The first time, I thought about it a little bit. Once we got going, I forgot all about it. My son is a professional. He just does his job.
"I hate that I got into porn so late. I work with a lot of young girls. It's kinda hard for them because I'm a lot older.
"I can't say anything bad about the industry. It's done fine for my kids and me and T.T."
Harry and Joanna do a non-sex scene on the bed. He touches her all over and she acts like she doesn't enjoy it.
"Boy, that was creepy!" says the still photographer when it's over.
Eon McKai is working on the creepy angle just like Greg Dark did with the original New Wave Hookers.
Eve Mayfair says she's going to show this movie to her mom. She's that proud of it. "I don't think she would freak out but my brothers would. And you can't tell her anything without everyone finding out."
I take a break from relentlessly pumping people for scoop and enjoy The Anti-Chomsky Reader.
Joanna sits near me and reads Blender magazine. While I read a chapter entitled, "Whitewashing Dictatorship in Communist Vietnam and Cambodia," Joanna reads about rapper Kanye West. While I study Chomsky's support for holocaust deniers, she delves into rock 'n' roll. While I read an essay called "Chomsky and the Media: A Kept Press and a Manipulated People," she reads an essay called "Drugs, Hookers and Drinking in Class."
She used to be a smart girl. That's what her mom tells me.
I had an SAT score of 1135 while Joanna's was about 1460 yet I pursue a life of the mind while Joanna wallows in the gutter of pornography.
Joanna describes to an ingenue that Lukeisback is like Cosmo magazine with fashion and beauty tips, exercise and health, how to plan your wedding in less than 20 days, advice for the lovelorn...
A guy says: "I thought women had their weddings planned since they were little girls."
Joanna: "I know I have."
I should title this column: "Luke talks to Joanna's mom and makes everything all better."
Joanna's mom saw a poster of The Repenetrator, a hardcore film Joanna made that is filled with blood and gore.
Naomi Zen went back to the Midwest and shot paintballs at cows. When she came back to the scene of her crime, she found a sign: "Please don't shoot paintballs at our cows."
Carmen Luvana did a scene three months ago where she was tied up (except for one foot free) while having consensual sex. Pornographers have rarely combined bondage with hardcore sex but in this instance Adam & Eve is a trailblazer.
Thursday, I spoke to a member of the band Celebrity Skin. He talked about the increasing attention his band was receiving. That he'd just spent 90-minutes on the phone with the Music Editor (Kate Sullivan) of the LA Weekly. That she'd pushed him to have her boyfriend's band Tsar open for his.
I emailed Kate Sullivan about this. I did not receive a reply.
Full disclosure, I've chatted with Kate several times socially and once pitched her a story about the 30th anniversary of Air Supply.
What Changed In Our Air Supply?
Between 1980 - 1982, the Aussie band released seven straight top five hits. But since then, they've fallen off the charts.
Did Air Supply change or did we change?
I don't think they changed. Therefore, we must've changed. We must've hardened our hearts to honest ballads about vulnerable love.
This does not portend well for the future of our civilization.
It is time that we each examine our lives to see if we can't once again make love out of nothing at all.
Allegations Surface Over Black Underage Porn Chick
Aurora Snow Is Back
She looked messed up on drugs for a while but she's back. She seems clean. And she's directing (with the confidence of a Martha Stewart) for Defiance Films, which has the money to make a big splash. I know. I've been on their sets. Granola bar galore.
Good Affiliate Programs
Rob Longshot Disses Director Eon McKai
Eon McKai responds: "Rob I'm sorry you fell that way your [bad] scene will appear on KGK3 as an extra scene, so it's not shelved."
Eon's production manager Malachi Ecks writes on XPT:
Ashley Blue Returns
I'm Visiting London Sept 18-30
Email Luke the scoop. Fly Luke in to cover your events.
Where's The Shame?
A large component of the erotic thrill in watching porn used to be the shame the women performing in it so clearly felt. But in the last few years, the porn women don't seem to feel any shame. That means the pornographer must degrade them all the more so the consumer can still get that same erotic charge.
Rusty Nails, Serena Serena Serena Serena Serena Marcus Serena Marcus Serena, Seymour Serena, Rusty Justine Joli DCypher and GF Justine DCypher, Justine Justine, Wankus Konnie, Lexxi Tyler Konnie, Lexxi Konnie, Lexxi Konnie, Lexxi Lexxi Lexxi Rusty, Serena Rusty, Serena Lexxi, Dee
Keiko says she's got 15 performers who are willing to work for free to make a porn video whose proceeds will go to the Red Cross. "If we get enough people to participate in the auction, that will cover the printing and duplication costs," she says.
Keiko says she's got a fetish model who doesn't do hardcore to do hardcore for this good cause.
Higher gas prices bestow numerous benefits.
Seymour says all the bar owners he knows (presumably in the Valley) say their establishments are fuller than normal because people aren't driving over the hill to the city as often and aren't going out of town.
My commute Tuesday was a joy. It took me 30-minutes to drive from Beverly Hills to Canoga Park (9:20am - 9:50am) and the same time to come back (1:45pm - 2:15pm). There are new signs on the highway giving an estimated time of arrival to major freeway interchanges and to the downtown.
Seymour says that when the Carpenters died, music died for him.
Serena is a fetish model from Chicago. "I'm fresh meat," she says. "I've only done one movie."
I spot her with Steve Nelson from AINews. Then Rusty Nails moves in for the kill. He wants a roommate.
Brittney Brittney Rick Shameless Trisha Rey Trisha Ruby Redd, Trisha Rey Ruby, Trisha Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby, Joe Friday, Trisha Ruby, Joe, Trisha Ruby, Joe, Trisha Ruby Trisha Joe, Trisha Anthony Hardwood from Hungary Anthony Trisha, Anthony Trisha Trisha Gene Ross, Brittney Skye Sammie Rhodes Sammie Sammie Sammie Brittney, Sammie Brittney Brittney, Sammie Brittney, Sammie Brittney, Sammie Brittney, Sammie Sammie, Brittney Sammie, Brittney Sammie, Brittney Brittney Sammie, Brittney Sammie Sammie, Brittney Brittney Memphis Monroe, Jessica Jammer Memphis, Jessica Memphis, Jessica Memphis Jessica Jessica Memphis Jessica, Memphis Jessica, Memphis Jessica Sammie Brittney John West
Anthony Hardwood, 37, did his first scene for Patrick Collins in 1996 in Budapest. Since then, he's done about 800.
He grew up in a small town (Onoshaza) 150 miles from Budapest. He was constantly in trouble and ran with a gang. "Somebody almost killed me. I got shot in my thigh."
Anthony says life didn't change much when communism ended in his country. The Hungarian economy struggles.
"I love f---ing and I hate diseases."
He's lived in America for seven years. "You just get married [to get a Green Card]."
Anthony says one of the highlights of his time in porn was a boy-girl-girl scene he with Jenna Jameson and Monica Sweetheart (even though he didn't have sex with Jenna as she is exclusive to her husband Jay Grdina).
Anthony recently lost his girlfriend of nine years. She's a mainstream model who would no longer put up with him working in porn. "When you're f------ five, six, seven girls a week, when you go home, you don't want to be sexual."
Hardwood works as a personal trainer.
I interview Brittney Skye. "I always wanted to be a cheerleader. I always wanted to be pretty. I was a cheerleader for two years in highschool.
"Since an early age, I've had a thing for blonde girls with big boobs."
Skye got her's six years ago (she entered porn two years later). She worked in retail before porn.
"I didn't do that good [in school] once I discovered boys and snowboarding."
Brittney started having sex at age 13 and slept with about 15 guys by the time she graduated.
She began smoking marijuana at 16.
Duke: "What are your ambitions?"
Brittney: "Make money and retire. Travel. Marry and have kids and a big house. Be president of the PTA.
"It's been a while since I've had a boyfriend I actually like, more than in the bedroom.
"At first [guys] are ok with [Brittney being a porn star], but once they start caring, they don't like it anymore. At my stage of life, I just say goodbye. I can't take a break and come back in a year and expect to be as busy and make as much money as I do now.
P.J. Sparxxx leaves a phone message for photographer Dr X.
"I wanted to be a vet, then I wanted to be a lawyer, then psychology. I changed so many times. I had big goals planned for my life and here I am.
"My parents never expected anything. I was a straight-A student. Very focused. They never pressured me. Just do what makes me happy. Very supportive.
"I graduated early [from highschool]. I went to three different colleges and I didn't graduate from any of them.
"My [older] brother was worried [when Sammie entered porn]. He didn't say anything. It made him uncomfortable. He heard everything from his friends. My sister was thinking I was the devil and I was ruining my parents life. Just very bitter and very angry. My parents are accepting if I'm safe and I'm happy and I'm doing well for myself.
"Since I've been out here, I've cleaned up my life. Just being young and destructive and the usual teenage find-your-life pattern. A lot of drinking and my fair share of everything. Now I just want to be straight and sober."
Duke: "Porn helped you get straight?"
Sammie: "My agent Skooby. He whipped my ass in shape real fast. The first week I got here, he said, 'Uh uhh. You've got to cut that s--- out. You're here to work. Not go out and get wasted and not be able to show up.'"
Duke: "What prompted you to get into porn?"
Sammie: "Since the beginning of time, I've been way too sexual for my own good. Since six years old. I held off."
A businesswoman from next door walks up looking for the stage manager. It doesn't bother her that people make pornography next door. It bothers her when they use some of her rarely-used parking spaces.
Sammie: "I waited until I was 16 before I had sex. I was with a mainstream modeling agency in Connecticutt. I moved to Boston. Some guy got a hold of my pictures and asked me if I'd do adult modeling. I said, 'Are you crazy?' He said, have dinner with me.
"The next thing I know, I'm doing a girl-girl scene. Then a boy-girl scene. Then I'm out here (May 26, 2004) and I'm doing boy-girl. It happened so fast."
For the past three months, Sammie has only done girl-girl.
Duke: "When you're dating someone outside the industry, how do they react to your being a porn star?"
Sammie: "I don't know anyone outside the industry. I don't go out much."
Matt Prior, who operates Str8-Up Studios, says his assistant Angel is truly an angel. He's Matt's first assistant who's not a junkie and doesn't hit on the girls and is happy to have the job.
Matt says he used to have a pair of Levis working for him.
I accuse Matt of not liking Jews.
Gene chuckles. "There goes your business."
I spend most of the day reading the instruction manual to my Nikon D100 camera. When Monroe and Jessica walk up, I'm clutching the manual while photograping them.
It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in me.
I open the door for them.
Gene, Matt and Angel laugh. I ask what's up. Matt says it's funny seeing someone who's published books opening the door for porno chicks while photographing them with the manual in hand.
Jessica's been in porn for three weeks and Monroe for six months.
Tia Brodie Update
Upon reading this title, I immediately thought, "This will be fair and balanced. Definitely superior to that wanker Alex de Tocqueville and his toadying Democracy in America. At least with this Andrew Gumbel chap, he won't be constantly bending over backwards to tell us how much he loves us. He'll give it to us straight. "
My own bias is that voting rights should be made difficult to keep morons away from the ballot box (morons usually vote for Democrats and more government entitlements). I'm in favor of literacy tests. I'm for restricting voting rights to those who own property. I don't want felons voting. I don't want people voting who are afraid to show ID in case they are picked up for parole violations or warrants.
Andrew: "I'm talking to you while I'm running a few errands.
"Hold on a minute. I'm going to walk into Trader Joes.
"I did a piece for the Independent in 2003 looking into the shortcomings of electronic voting machines. I talked to a lot of computer science experts and voter-rights activists and became hooked on the subject.
"I felt from the way people reacted to that initial piece for the Independent that I should take it further. People were taken aback by the whole Florida battle between Bush and Gore and their legions of lawyers. The incomprehension carried over when it became clear that the new generation of machines that came in to replace the old punch cards were no better and in some ways more frightening in their scope for foulplay and malfunction.
"What kind of democratic culture does the United States have and where does it come from and why is the United States materially different from a lot of other democracies around the world. Here we have the world's most powerful democracy that goes around lecturing the rest of the world on the need for democratic values. Why they can't get their own democratic act together. It's a compelling subject and as I looked around, I realized that nobody had ever asked that question and attempted to answer it in a book-length format."
Luke: "Is the American voting system that much more dodgy than England or Australia or any other democracy?"
Andrew: "Yes. The whole mechanics of voting in the US is different. There are many more races on the ballot in the US than any other country I know of. On the one hand, that gives the impression that democracy is thriving. On the other hand, it creates a lot of logistical problems. As we've discovered with hurricane Katrina [and the inadequate government response to its affects], government in the US has been denigrated, downgraded and depleted over the past 30 years and election offices are no different. You're trying to organize this massive logistical exercise with limited resources. When you go back over the history, you realize that this has not only always been the case, but that it has been cultivated that way because it makes it that much easier for the political parties to manipulate things their way. The profusion of races at election time also means that you can't do what other countries do -- use straightforward paper ballots and count them by hand. That's impractical in an American setting.
"The overarching problem is that it is the two major political parties who are in control of most of the political power structure in this country. It is in both of their interests to keep the system a certain way and discourage third parties. They've developed this Hobbesian attitude towards the way elections happen. If one happens to be in control of one county or one state and plays fast-and-loose with the figures, coerce people at the ballot box, arrange for people who are dead or unregistered to have their votes counted anyway, there's been an understanding that they won't rock the boat with the other party because both of them do it when they have the chance. There's a fundamental attitude that elections are a visceral struggle rather than having anything to do with fairplay."
Luke: "Do these problems make a difference?"
Andrew: "Absolutely. There are cases of electoral fraud where we can be confident [that fraud gave the wrong result]. One famous example is John Kennedy's margin in Cook County, Chicago. It was staggering and helped him win Illinois and propelled him into the White House.
"Another example is the 2002 governor's race in Alabama. The Democratic candidate was all set and then a Republican county judge in rural Alabama decided, after most if not all of his staff and volunteers had gone home, that there had been a computer error (never explained) and that 7,000 votes awarded to the Democrat belonged to the Republican. That alone switched the result of the election. And when the Democracts demanded a recount, they were turned down by a Republican.
"People shouldn't be deluded into thinking that cheating is the province of one party. My conclusion from looking at the record is that both of them do it when they get the chance."
Luke: "The Independent in British terms is centrist and in American terms it is center-left?"
Andrew: "I don't think anybody in this country had much of an opinion about the Independent until September 11, 2001. There's a broad consensus overseas that the Bush administration [since 9/11] has been intrinsically alarming, which in turn triggers a chain reaction here among the screamers on Fox News and elsewhere. That we must be left-wing lunatics."
Luke: "But you guys are left of center?"
Andrew: "I wouldn't say so. The paper was founded in 1986 because The Times, which used to be the paper of record in England, was taken over by Rupert Murdoch. It wasn't so much the politics that changed as the quality.
The Independent had a notion that it should be a newspaper that was interested in the world, that wanted to present facts in an intelligent way, and presented an array of opinions. The paper is politically nonaligned. It calls itself the Independent for a reason.
"I've tried in the book not to express a preference for one party or the other. My biggest criticism is of the system as a whole."
Andrew says there's no evidence that George Bush stole Ohio and the 2004 election.
Andrew: "Starting in the late 90s, the establishment in Florida decided to draw up a list of people who should not be allowed to vote. And it was based on their criminal records. As it is, Florida has unusually repressive rules about who can vote because there is no automatic restoration of voting rights for felons after they have completed their sentences.
"Florida's prison population is disproportionately African-American and Hispanic. You have an inbuilt bias against African-Americans based on that when they get out of prison, they don't have their voting rights restored."
Seven states, all in the South, do not allow their ex-felons to vote. "These are all states with a bruising records of race relations. Former members of the Confederacy. States that indulged segregation and Jim Crow laws.
"On top of that, this [Florida] purge list (about 180,000 names) was not done properly. We know that those county officials who took the trouble to check found that the overwhelming majority of the names on the list were not valid, such as in Leon County, where the election supervisor found that 95% of the names on the list were wrong, so he threw it out. But many other counties didn't check.
"We're talking about tens of thousands of people, who were likely to have voted for Al Gore in overwhelming numbers, who were prevented from voting. Remember that George Bush took the state by an official margin of 537 votes."
Luke: "Are you saying that it is a denial of voting rights to not allow felons to vote?"
Andrew: "It is unusual for their voting rights not to be restored once they've completed their criminal sentence. I feel that without question that once people have paid their debt to society, I can't think of a reason that you would deny them the right to vote. I also see no reason why at least certain categories of felons should necessarily have their voting rights denied. Two states, Maine and Vermont, do penalize felons in this way. Perhaps it should be left up to the judge.
"The US has a much bigger prison population than any other industrialized country. That population in turn has expanded dramatically in the past 30 years because of the war on drugs and the explosion of prosecutions of mostly poor people on mostly petty drug offenses. In California, you have the Three Strikes law which openly targets people who've been charged on petty drug-related offenses, who, on their third strike end up going down for life. That's a gross injustice. There's a large movement of people in California who feel the same way."
Luke: "What's petty about committing certain drug felonies?"
Andrew: "We're talking about people who've been sentenced to life in prison for stealing a slice of pizza, for stealing a pack of batteries."
Luke: "They had to have had committed two other felonies before that."
Andrew: "But all three strikes were crimes of that nature -- petty thievery with a view to purchasing drugs to feed their own habit.
"I was in Berlin when the Berlin Wall came down with the massive street protests against the communist regime. Later, I was in Belgrade they had massive street demonstrations against Slobodan Milosevic when he tried to deny the opposition the fruits of their victory in a series of local elections. I was in Albania for a couple of elections, one which was manifestly stolen.
"I came to the United States in the middle of the impeachment thing [against Bill Clinton], and I couldn't help feeling that whatever else your opinion was of Henry Hyde and Kenneth Starr and all those people, great grassroots advocates of representative democracy they were not. Then the 2000 election happened, which happened to be the strangest exercises in democracy that I've ever witnessed. It left me feeling queasy. When the whole thing was over, I felt lousy. I went for a bike ride and could barely make it up the hill to my house. I was nauseated by what I had seen."
Luke: "Wouldn't you have felt the same way if George Bush had won by a landslide?"
Andrew: "What made me queasy was not the result, but the way they got there.
"In my chapter on the 2000 election, I bookend it with what happened in Washington State where you had a similarly close race in the Senate race. The morning after, the Republican appeared slightly ahead, but they hadn't counted the absentee ballots. They knew that the machines for counting the votes were not especially accurate.
"The local democratic culture in Washington is healthier than Florida, which has a long tradition of fraudulent elections and results being overturned in the courts. The other thing that was different was the nature of the political battle. With the presidency, both political parties were focused on winning at all costs rather than making sure that the appropriate outcome came to pass.
"In Washington State, the two candidates agreed on the rules and sat back and waited. After a few weeks, it turned out that the Democrat was ahead and the Republican conceded. There were no lawyers involved.
"There was an obvious thing done in Washington State that was not done in Florida -- count all the votes and as accurately and fairly as possible with a uniform standard on the way they were counted."
Luke: "Do you deal with things like Proposition 200 in Arizona which denied illegal aliens the right to vote."
Andrew: "If you're not a citizen, you're not allowed to vote anyway. Proposition 200 was not about voting rights but access to public services like health care and education."
Luke: "It didn't have anything to do with voting rights?"
Andrew: "It had nothing to do with voting rights. If you're not a US citizen, you don't have the right to vote. Full stop.
"Arizona is an interesting case in one respect. There's a been a tremendous amount of teeth gnashing about the way people get registered to vote and their eligibility for absentee voting. In Florida, there was tremendous suspicion and material evidence to suggest that people were being discriminated against when they applied for voter registration and absentee ballots, based on where they lived and what their likely voting patterns were. In Arizona, to my great pleasure, that doesn't exist at all. If you want to register to vote, you can mail it in, you can fax it in, and you get your registration card within 24 hours."
Luke: "Proposition 200 in [Arizona] requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote and proof of identity when voting, so it does have to do with voting rights."
Andrew: "I forgot about that aspect. The question of presenting identity cards at polling stations is a fraught one. If things were managed honestly, there would be no reason why that wouldn't be a respectable requirement. The problem is because of various historical ways that votes have been suppressed and fiddled with, there's a tremendous amount of suspicion in minority areas, in black areas, that the requirement to bring ID is a way of intimidating people who may have outstanding warrants, unpaid parking tickets, unpaid library fees, wanted for parole violations... And therefore, the requirement to have ID is seen as a mechanism for suppressing votes among a certain chunk of the population who may be living hand-to-mouth and are afraid of authority because they can't make ends meet in an honest way from one month to another."
Luke: "Do you buy that?"
Andrew: "It's a genuine concern. You've got to accept that that is the way they think. There's an argument to be made that [requiring a photo ID] does act as a vote suppression mechanism.
"I'm agnostic on the ID question, at least in theory. In practice I'm against anything that suppresses what is already a dismally low turnout rate."
Luke: "Why do you think low turnout is a bad thing?"
Andrew: "I start my book by saying that the only ideological position I take in the book is that representative democracy is a good thing and the more representative the better. That particular debate is not undertaken honesty in the US. The genuflecting to representative democracy in public discourse is not reflected in the way the voting system works. There are people who feel that those who are ignorant of what is going on politically shouldn't vote. Or that those with any kind of blemish on their character should be disqualified. My own take is that if you have voters who are ignorant, you need to educate them, not exclude them. If people feel disaffected, you need to find ways to bring them into the process. I think that the strength of a society is measured by the participation of its citizens."
Luke: "In the voting participation?"
Andrew: "Once you start deciding that some people aren't worth bothering with, that the people at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile are inferior, that is a dangerous road to tread."
Gumbel said that in the early part of the 19th Century, the US led the world in suffrage rights, but towards the end of the century, the captains of industry and political elites decided "to rip the heart out of the American electorate. And they were very successful. Not only did they disenfranchise blacks in the South, but the entire working class, the bottom 50% of the electorate by the introduction of literacy tests, character tests, moving poll stations around, restriction information on where the polling stations were... You went from a voter turnout rate of 80% to 50% and the country's never recovered.
"Only in the United States is there a close correlation between those who don't show up to vote and their [low] socioeconomic status."
Luke: "If people have the opportunity to vote but choose to do other things with their time, what's wrong with that?"
Andrew: "It's more complicated. There is something intrinsically wrong with a political system that turns off so many people."
Luke: "Couldn't you just as easily argue that there's something right with the political system that so many people don't care to vote?"
Andrew: "I vehemently disagree with it. If people aren't voting in the US, it isn't because they are happy with the way things are, but because they see their vote as pointless (because of things like gerrymandering)."
Luke: "There are a lot of countries with higher voter participation rates than the US but I don't see any of them as being cites on a hill in comparison to the US. I've lived in Australia, where there is almost universal voting because people get fined if they don't vote. I fail to see any practical difference with the US."
Andrew: "I've been to Australia. I'd argue that there's more vigorous debate about policy questions in Australia than the US. And the media, part of which is owned by the state, is much more informative about not only Australia but the wider world as well. There is much more of a culture of awareness in Australia about how the world works and what Australia's role is in it."
Luke: "What's wrong with having a literacy test before someone can vote?"
Andrew: "If you believe that everyone has the right to vote, then anything that impinges on that is hostile to that idea. Why shouldn't people who are illiterate be able to vote?"
Luke: "Because they're not smart enough."
Andrew: "Why do you need to be smart to vote? All you need to know is what it is you care about and have the issues that impact you explained to you.
"If you write off whole categories of the country, then the political system will pay them no heed, which is what we've got in the US. We have a huge underclass and tremendous degrees of malnutrition, poor education, poverty."
Luke: "Thanks Andrew."
Andrew: "Thanks for challenging me. Most people don't. You'll be interested to know that I had to concentrate on the conversation hard enough that I picked up one loaf of bread the entire time we've been talking."