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“Election Rigging, Culture War Edition”: Republicans Relying On Gerrymandering And Voter Suppression To Hold Onto Power

Republicans in Texas have managed to finagle a world in which a gun permit counts as proof of voter eligibility, but a student ID does not.

A divided Supreme Court handed a big defeat to the Obama administration and numerous civil rights groups early Saturday morning when it ruled that Texas can enforce its 2011 voter ID law in November that some have called the strictest in the country. Three justices dissented from the ruling that rejected an emergency request that had been filed by the Justice Department and civil rights groups.

The decision appears to mark “the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters’ rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional,” notes Scotus Blog’s Lyle Denniston. A federal judge had struck down the law last week, saying that some 600,000 voters—mostly black or Latino—would face difficulties at the polls due to a lack of proper identification. The law, which was approved in 2011 but only came in effect in 2013 lays out seven approved forms of identification—a list many have questioned for including concealed handgun licenses but not college IDs, notes the Associated Press.

Earlier this week Rachel Maddow called these tactics exactly what they are: cheating. There’s no sense in which a gun permit is a more reliable form of identification than a student ID, and no sense in which it’s constitutional or fair to require a person who tends to move every year or more and often depends on public transit, to have a current driver’s license in order to vote.

It’s election rigging, plain and simple, designed to give Republican and conservative voters the opportunity to vote while denying the franchise to traditionally more Democratic and progressive demographics.

But while these tactics are an outrage, they are in a sense a mark of desperation by the Right. They know that they can’t compete electorally, and that demographics work more and more against them with every election cycle. They see the handwriting on the wall, and unable to win the argument on policy, they rely on gerrymandering and vote suppression to hold onto power for just a few more years.

A slim extremist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is helping to enable these tactics, but it won’t serve them for long. Democrats have gotten very good at voter turnout operations, and it won’t be long before demographic pressures overwhelm the ability of conservatives to win elections by suppressing and slicing away a few percentages here and there. It simply delays the inevitable.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 19, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In Ferguson And Beyond, Punishing Humanity”: Subordinated People Are Mistakenly Viewed As Brutes Or Even Nonhuman Animals

On Sept. 26, two peaceful protesters were arrested in Ferguson, Mo. Watch this video (warning: includes profanity) and you will see two white officers arresting a young black woman who is wearing a red hoodie. One tackles her in a chokehold and yanks her hands behind her back. She whimpers, and they force her face down on the pavement. They then carry her off with one officer holding her by an arm, and the other holding her by a leg. Her body has gone limp; they dangle her between them carelessly. Why were these two men handling her “like an animal?” asks the protester recording the scene with her cellphone. It is a good question. And its answer is not obvious.

One possibility is that people are treated brutally because those who mistreat them fail to grasp their common humanity — or, similarly, their personhood. The idea is that seeing another person as a fellow human being is not only a prerequisite for ethical relations with her, but also strongly disposes us to treat her as we ought to. In George Orwell’s experience, when you see another person as “visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, [then] you don’t feel like shooting at him.” (Or her — presumably.) Moreover, man’s inhumanity to man (and women, too) often stems from overlooking our shared human capacities, an appreciation of which would tend to give rise to empathy. Subordinated people are mistakenly viewed as brutes, subhuman, or even nonhuman animals.

This line of argument regarding the most virulent forms of racism has been developed in detail by David Livingstone Smith, among others. It is also accepted in some form by many different kinds of humanists in philosophy, variously inspired by Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein. And it has echoed loudly in the blogosphere in the two months following the Ferguson protests — which erupted when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by a white police officer. It is not hard to see why. When, three days after the shooting, another white officer called the (primarily black) protesters “[expletive] animals,” it cemented many people’s fears that Brown had been slain in a similar spirit — the thought being that the officer responsible, Darren Wilson, saw Brown as an animal, or at least as less than human. Witnesses are on record saying that Brown had his hands up, that he was posing no threat to the officer, but that Wilson “just kept shooting” — even after Brown backed down, in a classic gesture of surrender. Wilson shot at Brown as if he felt powerless to stop him, almost as if he were faced with a bear or an ape or a zombie.

I used to be a humanist in this sense of the term. But I am fast losing my religion. Dehumanization increasingly seems to me to be merely a symptom of the problem. The problem being precisely that black people are being seen as people — and they are seen as being threatening, and taken down, because of it.

The humanist line on Ferguson is unduly optimistic, and rests on a psychologically dubious assumption. Namely, that when people who have historically enjoyed a dominant position in society (in this case white men) come to recognize historically subordinated people (racial minorities, women) as their moral and social equals, they will welcome the newcomers.  But seeing others as similar to ourselves can lead to hostility and resentment under certain conditions. It’s true that Orwell’s vision of a person running across the battlefield holding up his trousers during the Spanish civil war transformed an enemy combatant into a vulnerable human being in his eyes — someone who must have been undressed or indisposed moments before the gunfire started. But this humanizing vision involved no loss of status for Orwell. He felt sorry for the man. He saw him as ridiculous.

The situation is different when it comes to white men’s perception of non-whites and women. Over time, as the fight for equality has allowed some advancement and social mobility for racial minorities, as well as for women, toward what we might call the inner circle of humanity, white men have experienced a relative loss of status. And they now have more rivals for desirable positions. Add to that the fact that they may find themselves surpassed by those they tacitly expected to be in social positions beneath them, and we have a recipe for resentment and the desire to regain dominance.

None of this is likely to be conscious, nor to manifest itself at all times; nor is it true of all white men, obviously. Rather, it is likely to come out in momentary flashes of aggression for some white men when they are feeling threatened. That “Bring it, you [expletive] animals, bring it!” that the Ferguson police officer spat at the protesters back in August should be heard in this vein as a slur and a battle cry. As Kwame Anthony Appiah has argued, those accused of dehumanizing others often “acknowledge their victims’ humanity in the very act of humiliating, stigmatizing, reviling and torturing them.” The cop put these people down by likening them to animals — an insult that depends, for its humiliating quality, on its targets’ distinctively human desire to be recognized as human beings. The cop also declared his readiness to fight for his position in the existing social hierarchy. And the hierarchy assumes that we are all people — some of whom are more equal than others, naturally. This is the nature of domination and subordination relations, which have been theorized by Catharine MacKinnon and Sally Haslanger, among others. They require that there be people ranked above and/or beneath you. And it is important that we all know our place, if only tacitly.

Consider, too, what the people involved were doing in two of the above cases. They were engaged in that uniquely human activity of protesting. They were behaving as no animal besides us ever behaves. They were being “political animals,” to use Aristotle’s term for human beings. Many philosophers say that it is our capacity for rationality that distinguishes us as human. But at least as distinctive, one might think, is our capacity to be political.

The humanist line on Ferguson hence fails to explain what seems to provoke the aggression — namely, acts of political and personal defiance, which only people can demonstrate. Moreover, it is hardly surprising that historically subordinated people should be perceived in this way when they try to assert themselves around, or over, dominant group members. They are liable to be perceived as belligerent, “uppity,” insubordinate or out of order.

This is a plausible hypothesis about what happened in Michael Brown’s case as well. The exact events remain in some dispute, but most agree on the same basic sequence. What seemed to set Wilson off was that Brown challenged his authority. The incident began when Brown ignored Wilson’s orders to get out of the center of the street, where he and his friend had been walking. Wilson drove off, apparently cowed. He then seems to have changed his mind, decided to stand his ground, have a do-over. He slammed his car into reverse; by some accounts, he was taunted by Brown, following a physical altercation. In the end, Wilson shot Brown at least six times, including twice in the head, and reportedly kept shooting after Brown surrendered. But at that point, it seems, it was too late for deference.

The humanist line on Ferguson also fails to explain the quality of the aggression, which has a resentful, vindictive tenor. After he was killed, Brown’s body was left uncovered on the street for some four hours afterwards, to add deep social insult to fatal physical injury. And when another young black man, Kajieme Powell, was shot and killed a mere 10 days later in St. Louis, the police officers who shot him did something extraordinary. After they had killed him, they handcuffed his dead body. Powell had been staggering around with a small knife, apparently trying to commit so-called suicide by cop. The man clearly needed some help to raise him up again. Instead, the police shot him down, and arrested him post mortem.

These actions, as well as being shameful, reveal a resentful and punitive mentality behind the aggression, which are classic examples of what the English philosopher P. F. Strawson famously called the interpersonal “reactive attitudes.” These attitudes are held to be both distinctive and central to our dealings with other human beings — that is, with people who we recognize as such, or as fully paid-up members in this club we call humanity. When it comes to animals and children and people we regard as (temporarily or permanently) not in control of their actions, we may try to correct, manage, deter or restrain their behavior. But, ordinarily and ideally, we do not resent it. They are not moral agents. We can’t really blame them.

And resentment and blame, along with punitive behavior and the associated social practices, are precisely what black people in this country are being systematically subjected to at present, at every level of the criminal justice system. Black people are proportionately far more likely to be stopped, frisked, searched, arrested, tased, charged, tried, convicted, incarcerated and executed (by means that are often grossly unconstitutional). Black bodies are routinely being policed and punished without mercy. And we don’t police animals in this way. Nor do we punish them in this spirit.

Unfortunately, seeing people’s humanity is only the moral beginning. Sometimes people will be punished for the crime of being people.

 

By: Kate Manne, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University; Opinionator, The Stone, The New York Times, October 12, 2014

October 14, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cruz’s ‘Tragic And Indefensible’ Reasoning”: Leave It To Ted Cruz To Render The Phrase ‘Judicial Activism’ Utterly Meaningless

By mid-day yesterday, hours after the Supreme Court had tacitly expanded marriage equality to several states, only one Republican U.S. senator, Utah’s Mike Lee, had issued a press statement. In the midst of an extraordinary societal shift on civil rights, Republicans – from Capitol Hill to the RNC – had effectively decided to take a pass on saying much of anything.

But it wasn’t long after that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) decided to weigh in. The fact that the far-right senator wasn’t pleased didn’t come as a surprise, but take a moment to soak in the Texas Republican’s incredible reasoning.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible,” said Sen. Cruz. “By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution. The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing.

“This is judicial activism at its worst.”

It wasn’t too long ago that “judicial activism” was a phrase that actually meant something. Folks on the left and right who were outraged when judges made up new legal rationales to justify controversial decisions could credibly use the words as part of a reasonable complaint.

In time, the phrase became diluted. Soon, every judge a partisan disagreed with became a “judicial activist,” whether the label made sense or not. Every ruling a partisan objected to became an example of “judicial activism,” even if it wasn’t.

But leave it to Ted Cruz to render the phrase utterly meaningless in a new and creative way: the Supreme Court, the senator now believes, can be guilty of “judicial activism” even when the justices literally haven’t done anything. Yesterday’s news was a breakthrough moment for equal-marriage rights, but in a practical sense, all the justices did was announce they wouldn’t hear some cases – something they do all the time, on all kinds of issues and areas of the law.

But that’s not all: Cruz then told everyone what he intends to do about this outrage.

The senator’s statement went on to say: “Marriage is a question for the States. That is why I have introduced legislation, S. 2024, to protect the authority of state legislatures to define marriage. And that is why, when Congress returns to session, I will be introducing a constitutional amendment to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”

And what is S. 2024? It’s a proposal to empower states to discriminate against same-sex couples and ignore marriages performed in other states. Luke Brinker explained, “Gay rights advocates have dubbed the bill the ‘You’re Not Married Anymore’ Bill,’ noting that it would sanction a patchwork of state laws pertaining to same-sex marriage and jeopardize couples’ rights as they travel from state to state.”

Cruz, of course, is also reportedly eyeing a national campaign in the near future. The right-wing Texan may very well be taking early steps to lock up the anti-gay vote now.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 7, 2014

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Marriage Equality, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Supreme Court vs. Eric Holder”: Why They’re So Wrong And He’s So Right About Voter ID

As my colleague Joan Walsh wrote when news of his pending resignation first hit the wires, Eric Holder’s legacy as U.S. attorney general is complicated. There’s a lot for a liberal to be unhappy about — too big to jail, the war on whistleblowers, continued acquiescence to the NSA — but there’s good stuff in there, too.

I was reminded of that when I watched a video of the attorney general that was released Monday morning, a short clip in which Holder blasts the Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow Ohio Republicans to reduce the amount of time allotted to Ohioans for early voting. The conservative movement’s recent embrace of policies that suppress the vote is one of the issues where Holder’s at his best. And as he argued in his new video, the extraordinary practical and symbolic meaning of the right to vote is the reason why.

“It is a major step backward to allow these reductions to early voting to go into effect,” Holder says in the video. “Early voting is about much more than making it more convenient for people to exercise their civic responsibilities,” he continues. “It’s about preserving access and openness for every eligible voter,” Holder argues, “not just those who can afford to miss work or who can afford to pay for child care.”

He’s absolutely right. While the orthodox Republican’s views on affirmative action or, say, criminal justice leave much to be desired, the campaign for voter ID laws being waged by the conservative movement — which was buoyed by the Supreme Court right-wing majority’s recent decision — strikes at something far more precious and fundamental. This, in other words, is not politics as usual.

To explain what I mean, I’m going to draw upon an analogy Jonathan Chait used a few months back, during his long debate with Ta-Nehisi Coates and others over the role culture and racism play in most African-Americans’ daily lives. I’m not going to get into that debate here (I think this piece makes plain where I land), but I want to adapt Chait’s analogy of life as a basketball game with crooked referees to the fight over voter suppression, where I think it’ll be considerably less problematic.

While it’s probably a mistake to think of the president and attorney general as mere coaches (i.e., players) in the context of fighting black poverty, when it comes to voter rights, it really is the courts — not the White House — we expect to play the role of fair-minded referee. And to give the judicial branch credit, it was initially doing an OK job of it in the Ohio case, twice shooting down Republicans’ attempt to disenfranchise Democrats in the state.

Indeed, in two separate rulings, judges saw the move for what it was: the political equivalent of a losing basketball team declaring to its sharpshooting competitor that shots made from behind the arc were now worth zero points instead of three. But that’s when Justices Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas stepped in, giving Ohio the go-ahead in a 5-4 decision that, for whatever reason, no member of the majority felt inclined to defend individually.

If you keep in mind that, Roberts excluded, this is the exact same group of men who just a few years ago were willing to destroy health care reform out of fear of government-mandated broccoli, you should have a sense of how patently weak the argument in favor of voter ID laws. Not only because the evidence that voter fraud is a real problem is essentially zilch, but because the attempt to deny millions of Americans their only real tool of self-government, their right to vote, is contrary to what most people think is so special about U.S. democracy.

On the most basic, essential level, our right to vote is about our right to be recognized as full and legitimate members of the community. It’s the way our democracy turns our God-given (or Universe-given, if you prefer) right to control ourselves into a contract we sign allowing other people — not only the government but civil society, too — to hold over us an enormous amount of authority. It’s how we say that even if we don’t like everything about this game, we’re still willing to play.

At the risk of oversimplification: Rousseau famously claimed society was nothing less than a system of control, a network of chains keeping us locked to the status quo. What makes Attorney General Holder’s Monday address so great, and his legacy on voting rights so commendable, is his understanding that by ruling in favor of Ohio conservatives, the Supreme Court is helping them throw away the key.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, October 6, 2014

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Eric Holder, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holder A Fighter Who Would Not Cower”: He Dared Others To Summon The Nerve To Fight Alongside Him

Eric Holder, who resigned Thursday, kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the American public that set the tone for his six turbulent years as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” said Holder in his first public speech after being sworn in.

When the remark drew an uproar from conservatives, Holder shrugged and doubled down. “I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder told ABC News. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” rarely engaging “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”

And true to form, Holder — a tall man who carries himself with the relaxed, quiet confidence of a corporate attorney — seldom backed down from a confrontation, on racial justice or other issues.

He pressed Credit Suisse, and the Swiss bank eventually paid over $2.6 billion to settle claims it was illegally helping wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes. Holder took the lead in pushing banks and other financial companies involved in the mortgage crisis to pay $25 billion to federal and state governments, a record civil settlement.

And Holder famously sparred with members of Congress such as Darrell Issa and Louie Gohmert as the television cameras rolled. In one heated exchange at a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013, Issa and Holder talked over each other, with the attorney general concluding, “That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It’s unacceptable, and it’s shameful.”

In another back-and-forth, Holder trash-talked Gohmert with lines that could have been taken from a comedy routine. “You don’t want to go there, buddy. You don’t want to go there, OK?”

While the history books will note Holder was the first African-American attorney general, a more relevant biographical fact might be his status as possibly the first attorney general who, as a college student protester, occupied a campus building: In 1969, as a freshman at Columbia University, Holder was part of a group of black students that took over a former naval ROTC office for five days, demanding that it be renamed the Malcolm X Lounge. (In a sign of the times, the university complied.)

Echoes of Holder’s activist history could be heard years later, in the middle of a high-stakes battle with leaders of several Southern states over voter-ID laws and other rules changes that Holder deemed an attack on black voting rights.

“People should understand that there’s steel here, and I am resolved to oppose any attempts to try to roll back the clock,” Holder told CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin in an article for The New Yorker.

Not all of Holder’s crusades have worked out well.

The Supreme Court, despite Holder’s efforts, voted to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and conservative senators blocked Debo Adegbile, Holder’s preferred choice to run the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department.

The attorney general has launched or joined legal battles against restrictions on voting rights in Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina, but it’s unclear whether those efforts will end up back at the same Supreme Court that weakened the original law.

In 2012, House Republicans voted to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress for stonewalling on information requests in the bungled Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation in which 2,000 weapons went missing. It was the first time in U.S. history that a sitting Cabinet member was given such a severe sanction. (The case will continue after Holder’s resignation, although his successor will inherit the fallout, not Holder personally.)

But history will surely judge Holder a success at broadly expanding access to justice for groups seeking acceptance and fairness. He announced the federal government would no longer defend laws banning same-sex marriage and told state attorneys general they could do the same.

And Holder made good on his initial commitment to change the conversation on race. He traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, and assigned dozens of Justice Department personnel to investigate law enforcement practices after the police killing of Michael Brown triggered street riots.

He has also called for voting rights to be restored to formerly incarcerated Americans, and pressed for a reduction in the prosecution of low-level marijuana users.

For one clue about how history will regard Holder, go back to 2009. In the effort to battle terrorism, Holder called for five accused terrorist’s suspected of participating in the 9/11 attacks to be tried in federal courts in New York — only to see the proposal scuttled after a political uproar.

“We need not cower in the face of this enemy,” Holder told skeptical members of the Senate. They didn’t buy the argument, but it was classic Holder: Once again, the battler leaping into the arena and daring others to summon the nerve to fight alongside him.

 

By: Errol Louis, CNN Opinion, September 26, 2014

September 29, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Eric Holder | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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