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“Confused Voter Or Disenfranchised Voter?”: In Texas, You Can Vote With A Concealed Handgun License—But Not A Student ID

Texans casting a ballot on Monday, when early voting begins, will need to show one of seven forms of photo ID. A concealed handgun license is okay, but a student ID isn’t. The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to go forward with this controversial voter ID law. A federal judge had previously struck down the law, arguing that it could disenfranchise 600,000 voters or a full 4.5 percent of registered voters, many of them black and Latino.

Critics say voter ID laws, especially the one in Texas, amount to voter suppression, because it can be both difficult and costly to get the required identification. In a powerfully worded dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, wrote, “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

Saturday’s decision marks the third time this season that the Supreme Court has allowed a controversial voter law to take effect. The other two were about measures in Ohio and North Carolina. This may not seem surprising, given that the Roberts Court has struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, but the rationale for this (and the other decisions) may have been more about timing than substance—in particular, observing the precedent of Purcell v. Gonzalez, in which the Court has blocked last-minute changes in voting laws in order to avoid confusion. Still, what’s worse? A confused voter or a disenfranchised one? The latter, Ian Millhiser argued at ThinkProgress: “If a confused voter brings an ID to the polls that they do not need to have, they will still get to cast a ballot. But if the same voter mistakenly forgets their ID (or fails to obtain one) because they were confused and believed that their state’s voter ID law was not in effect, then they will be disenfranchised.”

Actual voter fraud, which is the problem that Republican legislation supposedly addresses, is difficult to find. Ginsburg noted that there were “only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction” in Texas in almost a decade. The consequences of voter ID laws, on the other hand, are much easier to track. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, existing ID requirements reduced turnout in some states during the last presidential election, particularly among young and black voters. Now, imagine the impact is even larger, because it is spread over the 33 states that now require some form of photo ID to vote. The same report found that the costs of acquiring the needed ID ranged between $14.50 to $58.50 for 17 of the states.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Voter ID, Voter Suppression, Texas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A GOP Cliché”: Politicians Are No Scientists On Climate Change, But They’re Happy To Give Medical Opinions On Ebola

“I’m not a scientist, but …” has become something of a cliché among politicians who want to weigh in on climate science without actually having to say whether they believe it. But when it comes to Ebola, a number of the same not-a-scientist politicians have been more than happy to provide their medical opinions, as Think Progress documented Monday.

Many of these politicians have made false statements about Ebola, from claiming one could catch it at a cocktail party, to arguing that it can be transmitted through the air, to worrying that immigrants will carry it over the Mexican border (where there have been precisely zero cases of Ebola).

As Think Progress notes, many of the Republican politicians spreading medical misinformation about Ebola have attested to their lack of qualifications in other scientific fields like climate change:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says he’s “not qualified” to debate the science of climate change, but insists that President Obama should “absolutely consider” a ban on U.S. travel to West African countries experiencing Ebola outbreaks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he’s “not a scientist” when it comes to climate change, but also says it would be “a good idea to discontinue flights” from Ebola-affected countries. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — who studied science in college — says he’ll “leave it to the scientists” to talk about climate change, but says it’s “common sense” to institute a flight ban.

Meanwhile, actual doctors and medical professionals have made it clear that Ebola does not spread through the air, it is not “incredibly contagious” and there is little likelihood of a large-scale outbreak in the United States.

Irrational panic over Ebola, however, does appear to be highly communicable.

 

By: Kate Sheppard, The Huffington Post Blog, October 21, 2014

 

 

 

 

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Ebola, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fear Mongering, Because It’s All They Have Left”: The GOP Is Desperate To Win The Mid-Term Elections

They supported the sequester which cut funding research for the Center For Disease Control. Maybe we could have been closer to a cure for a certain virus. They refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s choice for Surgeon General because they don’t like the nominee, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy (big surprise! Could the NRA’s objection have something to do with it?) Gee, we could have used one right about now. They decided to not come back from their fall break (after a long summer vacation) to vote on going to war against ISIS and instead are campaigning for the mid-term elections.

And now certain members of the Republican party are running election ads attacking the President and Democrats for not doing more to stop both the Ebola virus and ISIS. To me, this is the height of hypocrisy.

One GOP campaigner, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) even went so far as to lie on Fox News and say at least 10 Islamist State fighters were captured at the southern border. This, after others concocted a false scheme where they say immigrant children were entering the country with the Ebola virus.

Either the GOP is very clever, playing on the fears of US citizens or they are desperate to win the mid-terms. But the truth is the President has shown leadership and taken bold action on both issues. He sent troops and medical aids and supplies to the Ebola afflicted African nations. He has appointed an Ebola Czar, Ron Klain, a veteran DC insider with experience in navigating the government bureaucracy and after calling on the President to appoint such a position, of course, the GOP are condemning his choice because they say he has no medical background.

My understanding is that this appointee will not be actually doctoring or healing those with the disease but coordinating and overseeing an effort to find a cure and assist health care workers and hospitals and tracking down those exposed to the virus.

The President and Secretary of State John Kerry have assembled an impressive coalition of many nations including Arab ones to help fight ISIS. Our bombing of ISIS headquarters in Syria and Iraq and most recently the Syrian Kurdish border city of Kobane have ISIS on the run. President Obama has said it will be a long fight but we must prevail.

The ironic thing is that even though Republican lawmakers support the President’s actions against ISIS, many have blamed him for their emergence and have constantly called him weak on foreign policy issues. I remember a time when it would have been deemed treasonous to not back our Commander in Chief in times of war.

Instead of constantly condemning, I would like to know what the GOP plans to do. Besides a travel ban which many experts believe would hamper efforts to contain the virus where it started, I have seen no solutions from Republicans to either of these crises.

I notice we hear little these days about Obamacare which was supposed to be the defining issue of these mid-terms. I guess that means those people who have it like it (and can keep it). My question is why don’t the Democrats turn it into an election year plus and call out the naysayers? Is it because it is too closely tied to the President? The GOP may be fear mongerers but the Dems are cowards.

It seems to me those seeking election should campaign positively and tell what they have done and will do for the American public rather than running away from the tough issues or blaming the other side for all the ills in the world. No wonder Congress has an approval rating of 16 percent. They talk about the President’s being low at 40 percent but he’s 24 percent higher than they are.

I get it. The campaign tactic is to deflect from the good economic news and the growing support for Obamacare. But I am hoping the electorate will reject the fear mongering and the voter suppression and the cowardly avoiding of the hot button issues and do research and vote for those who run clean campaigns and have proven themselves good public servants. There must be a handful of them out there. The only way to exact change is to throw out those who have no solutions but constantly complain. Negativity is not what we need right now, rather it is a coming together of hearts and minds to solve our problems in a constructive way regardless of party.

 

By: Joan E. Dowlin, The Huffington Post Blog, October 21, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Midterm Elections, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We Can Ratchet Up Accountability All We Want”: America’s Schools; Still Separate And Very Much Unequal

I have taught in two different Mississippi Delta high schools, and now work in a community college.

From the 30,000 foot level, at the federal Department of Education, and even in the Mississippi statehouse, we are told that the problem with our schools is low standards and lack of accountability for teachers. From the ground, it looks quite different. Schools that serve the highest-poverty students like the one where I teach are consistently and intentionally under-resourced, exacerbating the dire circumstances in which many of them live.

I once visited the three-room trailer home of one of my high-school students near the town of Alligator, Mississippi, which was housing 10 people — six of them young children. There were only two light fixtures: one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom. No tables, so they ate meals and did their homework on the kitchen floor.

Many Delta children are technically homeless. They “float around” from house to house, relying on strangers or relatives in very unstable living situations. And because there are not enough health providers, just getting to see a doctor can be an all-day event.

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision identified segregation as the shameful and harmful toxin that it is. We have failed for 60 years to eradicate that toxin, with dire consequences for our schools.

Schools do not operate in a vacuum. Family circumstances that accompany students when they walk through the classroom door every day have a big impact on those students’ success. We all know this. But less often do we acknowledge that those students do not operate in a vacuum either; the communities in which they live have as big an impact on students’ learning as do their family circumstances. And when those communities are economically and racially isolated and segregated, schools face much larger challenges.

Even at the community college level, poverty’s effects sharply challenge the pursuit of education. Lack of transportation is a huge obstacle in this rural area. Students may walk four miles to get to school. I have seen kids walk in all kinds of weather. It’s heart wrenching to hear that they can’t make it to class or to lab or to get extra help because they have kids, or jobs they are trying to get to, or “my ride is leaving.”

Some reformers dismiss these as isolated issues, but when you see it over and over, you realize that it’s pervasive, and that people don’t know how to fight it or change it.

From the moment the Brown decision was delivered, political, civic, business and religious leaders across the Deep South adopted what became known as the “massive resistance” strategy. They refused to integrate schools, and did everything they could to stall the inevitable federal imposition of it. Local officials used all manner of diversions, impediments and excuses to either prevent desegregation or to sabotage its implementation so it could be deemed a “failure.” Indeed, most schools in the Mississippi Delta did not begin to desegregate until the late 1960s, and tens of thousands of black teachers and administrators across the South lost their jobs in retaliation.

We have not “abandoned” the mission, we never fully committed to it.

In 1995, 40 years after Brown, I was teaching at the black high school where my own children were enrolled. A colleague and I went dumpster diving at the other high school for the English textbooks they were throwing away, to get enough just for classroom sets for our students. The white high school had a fully equipped science lab; ours had no lab equipment or supplies. Decades of such inequities laid the foundation for today’s “failing schools.” They were designed to fail.

We can ratchet up accountability all we want, test students more often, and fire more teachers. That will likely cause more children to feel like failures, more dedicated and exhausted teachers to leave our schools, if not our profession, and fewer of our students to graduate from high school and become engaged, employed, productive citizens.

Fixing the complex, longstanding problems holding back our communities, however, will require acknowledging some harsh realities. Starting with the reality that we treat some children as if they are worth more, and mine as if they are worth less, and that growing up and going to school in segregated, isolated communities makes success elusive. We must ensure that money – to pay teachers (and parents) well, to make classrooms engaging, and to ensure that all children are fed, housed and healthy – is available to all. We must stop advancing policies that promote individual “choice” at the expense of developing good, equitable public schools, that treat public schools like market commodities, and that reward outcomes like increased segregation.

Shifting to policies that incentivize integrated, diverse schools and neighborhoods and community-level investment in our most precious public good are critical steps toward fulfilling Brown’s mission. It’s not too late.

 

By: Renee Moore and Elaine Weiss; Moyers & Company; Bill Moyers Blog, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools, Teachers | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Affirmative Right”: Adding The Right To Vote To The Constitution

The Bill of Rights, as the name implies, lists a wide variety of privileges of citizenship that cannot be taken from Americans without due process. You have the right to free speech, you have the right to bear arms, you have the right to a fair trial, etc. The right to vote, however, isn’t mentioned.

In fact, though the Constitution offers some relatively detailed instructions on voting for president through the Electoral College, the document has far less to say about the right of Americans to cast a ballot in their own democracy. There are amendments extending voting rights to freed slaves, women, and 18-year-olds, and poll taxes are prohibited, but there’s no additional clarity in the text about Americans’ franchise.

Up until fairly recently, that wasn’t considered much of a problem – at least since the Jim Crow era, there was no systemic national campaign underway to undermine voting rights. But in the Obama era, the Republican campaign to suppress the vote has included restrictions without modern precedent, which in turn has started a new conversation about changing the Constitution to guarantee what is arguably the most fundamental of all democratic rights.

Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this yesterday.

When the constitution was enacted it did not include a right to vote for the simple reason that the Founders didn’t think most people should vote. Voting laws, at the time, mostly favored white, male property-holders, and the rules varied sharply from state to state. But over the first half of the nineteenth century, the idea of popular democracy took root across the land. Property qualifications were universally abolished, and the franchise became the key marker of white male political equality. Subsequent activists sought to further expand the franchise, by barring discrimination on the basis of race (the 15th Amendment) and gender (the 19th) — establishing the norm that all citizens should have the right to vote.

But this norm is just a norm. There is no actual constitutional provision stating that all citizens have the right to vote, only that voting rights cannot be dispensed on the basis of race or gender discrimination. A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or dye it blue, or say “pretty please let me vote,” all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement.

The legality of these kinds of laws hinge on whether they violate the Constitution’s protections against race and gender discrimination, not on whether they prevent citizens from voting. As Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier has written, this “leaves one of the fundamental elements of democratic citizenship tethered to the whims of local officials.”

All of which leads to the question about a constitutional amendment, making the affirmative right of an adult American citizen to cast a ballot explicit within our constitutional system.

For some in Congress, this isn’t just an academic exercise. TPM had this report back in May.

A pair of Democratic congressmen is pushing an amendment that would place an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. According to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the amendment would protect voters from what he described as a “systematic” push to “restrict voting access” through voter ID laws, shorter early voting deadlines, and other measures that are being proposed in many states.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The Pocan/Ellison proposal would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”

The proposed amendment did not exactly catch fire on Capitol Hill: after its introduction, the proposal picked up 25 Democratic co-sponsors; en route to being entirely ignored by the political establishment and the House Republican leadership. There’s still no companion bill in the Senate.

I would assume that Pocan and Ellison aren’t surprised by the reception, but as the “war on voting” intensifies, and the Supreme Court’s support for voting rights wanes further, it’s not hard to imagine the demand for their measure growing.

Indeed, a year ago, Norm Ornstein, one of the Beltway’s most respected political scientists, made the case for precisely this kind of constitutional amendment.

We need a modernized voter-registration system, weekend elections, and a host of other practices to make voting easier. But we also need to focus on an even more audacious and broader effort – a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote…. [T]he lack of an explicit right opens the door to the courts’ ratifying the sweeping kinds of voter-restrictions and voter-suppression tactics that are becoming depressingly common.

An explicit constitutional right to vote would give traction to individual Americans who are facing these tactics, and to legal cases challenging restrictive laws. The courts have up to now said that the concern about voter fraud – largely manufactured and exaggerated – provides an opening for severe restrictions on voting by many groups of Americans. That balance would have to shift in the face of an explicit right to vote. Finally, a major national debate on this issue would alert and educate voters to the twin realities: There is no right to vote in the Constitution, and many political actors are trying to take away what should be that right from many millions of Americans.

That shift in balance is of particular interest. As Matt noted in his piece, “A constitutional right to vote would instantly flip the script on anti-fraud efforts. States would retain a strong interest in developing rules and procedures that make it hard for ineligible voters to vote, but those efforts would be bounded by an ironclad constitutional guarantee that legitimate citizens’ votes must be counted. A state that wanted to require possession of a certain ID card to vote, for example, would have to take affirmative steps to ensure that everyone has that ID card, or that there’s a process for an ID-less citizen to cast a ballot and have it counted later upon verification of citizenship.”

I’m generally skeptical of proposed changes to the Constitution, but that skepticism wanes in the face of a sweeping voter-suppression campaign, unlike anything in my lifetime, that shows no signs of abating.

Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, candidates for Congress and the White House are confronted with a simple question: is it time to add the right to vote to the Constitution?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 21, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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