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“It’s Smart To Think About The Long Game”: Hillary Clinton Supporters; It Is OK To Care About Gender On The Ballot

When it comes to women in politics, the United States is pretty much the pits. Women make up half the population in this country but hold less than 20% of congressional seats and comprise less than 25% of state legislators. The numbers for women of color are even more dismal.

On the world stage, the US ranks 72nd in women’s political participation, far worse than most industrialized countries – and with numbers similar to Saudi Arabia’s. A United Nations working group late last year called attention to this disparity in a report that found massive discrimination against women across the board, an “overall picture of women’s missing rights”.

And so it seems strange that at a time when the country has the opportunity to elect the first female president, the idea that gender might be a factor is considered shallow in some circles.

Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.

There has been an extraordinary amount of scorn – both from the right and from Bernie Sanders supporters – around the notion that Hillary Clinton and women planning on voting for her are playing the “gender card”. The criticism comes in part from Clinton’s unabashed embrace of women’s issues as a central part of her presidential campaign, and in part – let’s be frank – simply because Clinton is a woman.

The absurd conclusion these detractors are making is that if gender plays any role in a woman’s vote, it must be her sole litmus test. (If that were the case, you’d see throngs of feminists supporting Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina.) As author and New York magazine contributor Rebecca Traister has written, “Somehow the admission of gender as a factor in support for her creates an opportunity to dismiss not only enthusiasm for Clinton as feminized and thus silly, but also a whole body of feminist argument that concerns itself with the underrepresentation of women in politics.”

One could argue that, gender aside, Clinton’s policies are better for women than Sanders’s – Naral Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s endorsements speak to that some, as does Clinton’s vocal emphasis on repealing the Hyde Amendment, which denies poor women the ability to obtain reproductive healthcare. But there is also nothing untoward about pointing out that the groundbreaking first of a female president would also benefit women.

After all, while Barack Obama’s tenure hasn’t led to any “post-racial” utopia, the symbolism of the first black president forever changed the way this nation thinks and talks about race. The first female president, while certain to bring misogynists out of the woodwork at proportions that will make GamerGate look tame, would likely do the same for gender.

There is nothing wrong or foolish in thinking about a candidate’s gender in an election. It is politically savvy to vote for your interests. It is smart to think about the long game for women’s rights. And for those of us with our bodies literally on the line, it is wise to cast a vote that you believe will be the most likely to ensure women won’t be forced into pregnancy, arrested for having miscarriages or any other of the horrifying consequences that anti-abortion Republican leadership would surely pursue.

For some people, even weighing gender heavily in their political decision-making still won’t mean a vote for Clinton. But if it does, their vote should be respected as a well-informed one. Dismissing those who want to take gender into account is turning your back on the basic democratic principle that people have the right to be politically represented.

Electing women into office is important for women’s equality, and it’s also crucial for our country’s health. Considering that truth in the election booth is not caring about a “single issue” – it’s voting smart.

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, January 15, 2016

January 17, 2016 Posted by | Gender Equality, Hillary Clinton, Women in Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans’ Coup de Grace On Voting Rights?”: Putting The Interests Of The Republican Party Over The Interests Of Voters

Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott. The case involves an issue of increasing importance to American politics: congressional districting. It got to the Supreme Court because conservative litigators with a successful track record of fighting against the right to vote are trying to turn the logic of pro-voter rights decisions on their head. And it’s very possible that they may succeed again.

This most recent battle in the voting rights war involves two of the Warren Court’s most important decisions. One of the tactics that state legislatures used to disenfranchise African-Americans was to draw district lines (or refuse to revise them) in ways that left minority voters massively underrepresented. In Alabama in 1964, for example, some counties included 40 times more people than others. In Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court held that such schemes were illegal. States were required to adhere to a “one person, one vote” standard when apportioning their legislatures. Combined with robust enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, these landmark cases helped to end Jim Crow disenfranchisement schemes.

Perversely, this lawsuit hopes to use these decisions to turn back the clock and dilute the representation of minority voters. The theory of the lawsuit is that Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause when it drew its district lines based on total population rather than on the population of voters. The state, according to the theory, should only be able to conduct apportionment according to the number of eligible voters.

If adopted, the theory presents an obvious practical problem. Total population is measured with reasonable reliability by the Census. Eligible voters are much harder to measure, not least because the numbers change every election. (What should be counted — presidential election years? Off years? State elections? Some combination?) The discretion the measure would leave to legislators leaves the process open to more of the kind of manipulation that Reynolds v. Sims tried to minimize. Plus, it just seems illogical for a state’s representation in Congress to be based on total population, but its districts drawn by eligible voters.

Which brings us to the even bigger problem with the theory: In most cases, the effect of the rule change would be to overrepresent white voters and underrepresent minority voters. As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick puts it, “if the plaintiffs win this appeal, power will shift markedly from urban voters to rural voters and to white and Republican districts over minority and Democratic ones.” To read the Equal Protection Clause to not merely permit but require the under representation of minority voters is, to say the least, perverse.

That the argument should be indefensible doesn’t mean that it can’t win. The group bringing this lawsuit scored a major anti-voting rights victory with the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Even worse, it did so by arguing that the explicit powers given to Congress to enforce the 15th Amendment were trumped by an alleged “equal state sovereignty” principle, an idea without support in the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedents not written by John Roberts, save for the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford. If the Roberts Court is willing to cut the heart out of the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction based on arguments that feeble, it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t put the interests of the Republican Party over the interests of voters in Evenwel v. Abbott.

That said, oral argument did not clearly indicate how the case will come out. The Court’s Democratic nominees were predictably hostile. Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, appeared curious but non-committal to the plaintiff’s novel theory. Even if the Court doesn’t buy the argument that the Constitution requires the states to use voters rather than total population, if it signals that this kind of districting is permitted the consequences could be dire.

This case has to be seen as part of a larger political struggle. The Republican Party faces a problem: Demographic changes are making its overwhelmingly white voter base a smaller part of the population. This year, their presidential primary, in which the major candidates try to out-xenophobe one another, will make this problem worse rather than better. To combat this, Republican states have adopted various measures to suppress minority voters — if you can’t attract their votes, keep ‘em from the ballot box or try to make their votes count less through gerrymandering. Their allies in the Supreme Court might well use this case to assist in this vote-suppression effort once again.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, December 15, 2015

 

 

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Gerrymandering, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Prayers Are Not Enough”: Your ‘Prayers’ Should Be For Forgiveness If You Do Nothing – Again

In October, following a deadly mass shooting in Oregon, a visibly angry President Obama delivered a message from the White House: “[T]houghts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now.”

Two months and one day later, an even deadlier mass shooting unfolded in Southern California, prompting Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to take the president’s sentiment about “thoughts and prayers” a little further. “Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage,” the senator said on Twitter. “Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing – again.”

Whether Murphy intended to cause a stir or not, his message sparked some criticism. The Hill published a piece under the headline, “Dem senator criticizes post-shooting ‘prayers.’”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) says people who pray for the victims of shootings should be asking for forgiveness for their inaction. […]

Murphy drew criticism from users on Twitter who said his remarks were “offensive” and demeaning toward religious people.

I think this badly misses the point of an important sentiment. Murphy can certainly speak for himself, but the “prayers are not enough” argument generally has nothing to do with criticizing prayer or those who worship. It has everything to do with the idea that extending thoughts and prayers should be the start, not the end, of a constructive conversation about reducing gun violence.

In other words, when politicians – officials who can take steps to save lives through effective policymaking – offer thoughts and prayers after mass shootings, it’s fine, but it’s also inadequate. The sentiment warrants a follow-up question: “The thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but what’s next?”

If the answer is, “We’ll offer more thoughts and prayers after the next mass shooting,” the response isn’t enough.

The New Republic’s Elizabeth Bruenig made an interesting observation yesterday when highlighting Twitter responses to the San Bernardino shooting from the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

If you’re keeping score, that’s prayers, luck, and blessings from Republicans, and gun policy prescriptions from Democrats. One hundred and forty characters isn’t much, to be fair, but I can think of at least one way to split the difference: praying for the strength and wisdom to fix our heinously broken gun policy, for starters.

And that’s ultimately what this is about. I haven’t seen any politicians or public officials suggest people shouldn’t extend thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, but there seems to be some disagreement over what should follow the well-wishes.

For their part, congressional Democrats have vowed to continue pushing policy measures intended to curtail gun violence and congressional Republicans will very likely continue to reject those proposals reflexively, just as they did this week.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 5, 2015

December 6, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re Ignoring The Real Gun Problem”: Exactly Which Forms Of Gun Violence Do Republicans Support?

Today President Obama spoke briefly to the press about yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, and he began by noting: “So many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it.” But what’s the “it” we’re talking about here? Is it just our spectacular and never-ending run of mass shootings?

Because if it is, we’re on the lesser of our gun problems. I’ll explain why in a moment, but here’s a bit more of what Obama had to say:

“It’s going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide that they want to do somebody harm, we’re making it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it’s just too easy. And we’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — for individuals to get access to weapons.”

His mention of “legislatures” is an implicit acknowledgement that any movement that happens on gun laws will happen at the state and local level, because congressional Republicans are emphatically against any legislation that would even inconvenience, let alone restrict, anyone’s ability to buy as many guns of as many types as they want. But what are those “basic steps” we can take, and would they actually work? And which kinds of gun violence would they stop?

It’s not surprising that we focus on mass shootings, because they’re sudden and dramatic — the very fact that they’re unusual compared to ordinary shootings is why they’re newsworthy. That’s despite the fact that we have them so often that the victim count has to get pretty high before the national news pays attention. But as this blog has noted before, they’re actually the smaller part of our gun violence problem.

Using the now-common definition of a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are injured or killed, there were 351 mass shootings in the United States this year before San Bernardino, or more than one per day. In those shootings, a total of 447 people died and 1,292 people were injured.

Now let’s use a year for which we have complete data on gun violence, 2013. That year, there were 363 mass shootings resulting in 502 deaths. But overall, 33,636 Americans died from gun violence that year. The number of gun homicides was 11,208. That means that victims of mass shootings made up 1.5 percent of all gun victims and 4.5 percent of gun homicide victims.

Democrats advocating for gun restrictions take the opportunity when there’s a mass shooting dominating the news to say: “This is why we need these restrictions.” Which is understandable as far as it goes, but it still keeps attention on the smaller part of the problem.

Republicans and conservatives, on the other hand, see mass shootings as regrettable but say that any government action to restrict access to guns either won’t stop such shootings, or would represent an unacceptable trade-off in terms of surrendering liberty. Some will instead say, “we need to reform the mental health system. ” But nine out of ten GOP congressmen probably couldn’t tell you a single thing they’d do to reform it, let alone how whatever they support would actually reduce the yearly death toll. There are a couple of related bills in Congress that Republicans support to make some reforms to the mental health system, but they could actually wind up making it easier for some people with a history of mental illness to get firearms.

And of course Republicans don’t address this simple fact: the overwhelming majority of gun homicides in America are not committed by people who have been declared mentally ill. They happen when abusive men kill their spouses or partners, when an argument between neighbors gets out of hand, when an angry ex-employee shoots his boss, when cycles of revenge spiral onward.

But if we only try to talk about guns when there are mass shootings, it allows Republicans to say, “It’s not about the guns — this guy was just crazy!” (Never mind that there are people with mental illness everywhere in the world; only here is it so easy for them to arm themselves to the teeth.)

If Republicans (and I’d put special focus on the presidential candidates, since they’re the ones who can get the most attention) are going to argue that the answer to gun violence is mental health reforms, they ought to be forced to get specific. Exactly which forms do they support? How exactly will each of those forms reduce gun violence? Will any of their ideas do anything to help the 95 percent of gun homicide victims who don’t die in mass shootings?

We’re now getting reports that Syed Farook, one of the shooters in San Bernardino, may have been in touch with an international terrorism suspect, and so this shooting may have been politically motivated (even though he chose to target his co-workers). Had that not been the case, Republicans would have said that all that matters is that Farook was crazy — how could anyone who killed 14 people not be? Now they’ll say that all that matters is that he was a terrorist. But if that turns out to be true, it would bring the number of Americans killed at home in jihadist attacks since 9/11 to 45. That’s about the number of Americans murdered with guns in an average day and half.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Congressional Republicans, Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Voters Should Choose Their Representatives”: The Supreme Court’s Election Reform Ruling Is A ‘Big F-ing Deal’

This, in the words of Joe Biden, is a big fucking deal.

The Supreme Court’s vote on marriage equality and its refusal to gut health-care reform justly got the banner headlines over the last few days. But a less-publicized case on Arizona’s independent redistricting commission had those of us fighting for election reform holding our breath in the march toward the last day of decisions.

At stake was nothing less than the ability to fight back against the forces of polarization, paralysis, and hyper-partisanship in our politics. Out of 435 House seats, only 35 are considered competitive, and the rigged system of redistricting is to blame. It’s a process of collusion between the two parties that takes place every 10 years in state legislatures and draws the congressional district lines—a subversion of democracy where politicians pick their people rather than people picking their politicians.

The result is a screwed up incentive system where members of Congress are virtually guaranteed re-election as long as they don’t lose a low turnout partisan primary, which means they live in fear of offending the base rather than reaching across the aisle to solve problems.

Increasingly, the remedy for this corrupt status quo has been voters bypassing the state legislators with ballot referendums that create independent redistricting commissions. California has done it to great effect, dislodging 14 incumbents who decided to retire after the independent commission promised to make their re-elections less than rubber-stamped.

And that’s what Arizonans did in advance of the 2010 districting, which upset then-Governor Jan Brewer. First she tried to remove the independent commission’s chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, in a power grab that was overruled. Then Brewer decided to take the commission to court, arguing that the panel—composed of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent—tried to “elevate ‘competitiveness’ over other goals.” Seriously.

“This isn’t anything more than Republicans trying to hold on to a majority in a state where they constitute less than a third of the voters,” explained former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson at the time. But still the baseless, desperate, cynical case wound its way to the Supreme Court.

If the court decided that the voters’ attempt to impose a nonpartisan redistricting commission over the self-dealing of the Arizona state legislators was unconstitutional, the best mechanism citizens have to restore fairness to congressional mechanisms would have been removed.

As Stanford law professor Nate Persily, the author of the new book Solutions to Political Polarization in America, explained: “Not only would many redistricting commissions, such as Arizona and California’s, have been thrown out, but any state regulation of congressional elections that was passed by initiative would have been legally vulnerable. This would have cast doubt, for instance, on California’s nonpartisan primary, Arizona’s voter ID law, and any number of other laws regulating voter registration, campaign financing, and ballot technology.”

It could have meant open season on election reforms of all kinds. But happily, by a narrow 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving in his role as the swing vote—possibly aided here by his roots in California, which has seen evidence of success in election reform—the Supreme Court decided to back the integrity of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her majority decision (PDF): “We see no constitutional barrier to a State’s empowerment of its people.” She continued by pointing out that “‘[P]artisan gerrymanders,’ this Court has recognized, ‘[are incompatible] with democratic principles’” and attested to the fact that reforms like independent redistricting commissions have resulted in “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” Quoting founding fathers from Madison to Hamilton, the decision concluded that Arizona voters sought to restore “the core principle of republican government,” namely, “that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The decision is a big win for election reform and a defeat for those professional partisan forces that want to keep the rigged system of redistricting in place. Now the prospect for future nonpartisan election reforms remains open and inviting to more citizens who understand that when you change the rules, you change the game.

 

By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Gerrymandering, Redistricting | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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