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“Changing The Way The Votes Are Counted”: Republicans Revive Bold Scheme To Rig Presidential Elections

After Republicans failed to capture the White House in 2012, they dusted off a tried-and-true plan to improve their future electoral prospects. No, they wouldn’t moderate their views or expand their appeal to win votes. They would just change the way that the votes are counted!

The plan: to rig the electoral college with the ultimate goal of squeaking out a Republican presidential win, even in an increasingly challenging electoral landscape.

Here’s how it was supposed to work.

Before the 2010 election, Republican strategists focused energy and resources on gaining control of state legislatures, and succeeded in flipping party control of legislative chambers in blue states including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This allowed Republican legislatures to draw congressional districts, gerrymandering their states to ensure future Republican gains even in states where Democrats tend to win statewide.

GOP strategists then took it a step further. What if Republicans used their control over these blue states and their favorably gerrymandered electoral maps to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections?

Under the Constitution, each state determines how it will distribute its electoral votes to presidential candidates. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a “winner take all” system, in which the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all of its electoral votes. The Republican plan would keep the “winner take all” system in big, solidly red states like Texas. But it would change it in big, blue states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, ensuring that a Democratic candidate who wins the popular vote in the state doesn’t go home with all of its electoral votes.

For instance, under the plan originally proposed in Pennsylvania after the 2012 election, which would have divided the state’s electoral votes up by gerrymandered congressional districts, Mitt Romney would have won 13 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, despite having lost the state’s popular vote. Last year, the Republican-controlled state house in the presidential swing state of Virginia put forward a plan to do something similar. If the Virginia plan had been in effect in 2012, Mitt Romney would have carried away nine of the state’s 13 electoral vote, despite having lost the state’s popular vote to Barack Obama.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made the goal of the scheme clear when he endorsed it last year, saying, “I think it’s something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.”

The proposals in Pennsylvania and Virginia sank after groups like People For the American Way got out the word and residents realized the proposals were part of a blatant political ploy. But this month, the scheme was resurrected in Michigan, where a Republican state lawmaker is proposing his own plan to dilute the power of his state’s reliably Democratic electoral college block. Under the plan introduced by Rep. Pete Lund, Michigan’s electoral votes would be distributed according to a formula tied to the popular vote. It’s not as blatant as the original Pennsylvania and Virginia proposals were, but it has the same goal: If it had been in effect in the last presidential election, it would have cut President Obama’s electoral total in Michigan down to 12 from 16.

These plans can initially seem reasonable, even to progressives, many of whom are wary of the electoral college system. But this isn’t a good-government plan to change the way our presidential elections are conducted. It’s a targeted plot to get more electoral votes for Republicans, even when they’re losing the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that these plans have often been quietly introduced in lame duck sessions, when voters are paying less attention. These measures, if allowed to be passed quickly in a few states with little debate and attention, could have national implications and change American political history.

Voters should be allowed to pick their politicians. But this is yet another case of politicians trying to pick their voters. Like with voter suppression schemes and extreme gerrymandering, the GOP is trying to change the rules of the game for their own benefit. Voters can’t let them get away with it.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, Electoral Colege, Gerrymandering | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wall Street Takes Over More Statehouses”: Public Pension Wall Street Feeding Frenzy About To Get Worse

No runoff will be needed to declare one unambiguous winner in this month’s gubernatorial elections: the financial services industry. From Illinois to Massachusetts, voters effectively placed more than $100 billion worth of public pension investments under the control of executives-turned-politicians whose firms profit by managing state pension money.

The elections played out as states and cities across the country debate the merits of shifting public pension money — the retirement savings for police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees — from plain vanilla investments such as index funds into higher-risk alternatives like hedge funds and private equity funds.

Critics argue that this course has often failed to boost returns enough to compensate for taxpayer-financed fees paid to the financial services companies that manage the money. Wall Street firms and executives have poured campaign contributions into states that have embraced the strategy, eager for expanded opportunities. The election results affirmed that this money was well spent: More public pension money will now likely be entrusted to the financial services industry.

In Illinois, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn was defeated by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, who made his fortune as an executive at a financial firm called GTCR, which rakes in fees from pension investments. Rauner — who retains an ownership stake in at least 15 separate GTCR entities, according to his financial disclosure forms — will now be fully in charge of his state’s pension system.

In Rhode Island, venture capitalist Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, defeated Republican Allan Fung. Raimondo retains an ownership stake in a firm that manages funds from Rhode Island’s $7 billion pension system. Raimondo’s campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from financial industry donors. She was also aided by six-figure PAC donations from former Enron trader John Arnold, who has waged a national campaign to slash workers’ pensions.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, handily defeated his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, after raising millions of dollars from the finance industry. The New York legislature is set to send Cuomo a bill that would permit the New York state and city pension funds to move an additional $7 billion into hedge funds, private equity and other high-fee “alternative” investments. Cuomo has not taken a public position on the bill, but his party in the legislature passed it by a wide margin, and he is widely expected to sign it into law.

In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker appeared early Wednesday to have secured a narrow victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Baker was on the board of mutual funds managed by a financial firm that has also managed funds from Massachusetts’ $53 billion pension system. Baker is also the subject of a New Jersey investigation over his $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey State Republican Party just months before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s officials awarded his firm a state pension deal.

In all, Republicans won 18 gubernatorial races thanks, in part, to the robust fundraising of Christie’s Republican Governors Association. Some of that organization’s top donors are the financial investment firms that manage public pension systems.

Former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Edward Siedle said campaign cash from the financial industry is fundamentally shaping the debate over how to manage state pension systems.

“Why have all pension reform candidates concluded that workers’ retirement benefits must be harshly cut, but, on the other hand, fees to Wall Street be exponentially increased?” said Siedle, who has published a series of forensic reports critical of politicians shifting ever more pension money to Wall Street. “The answer, of course, is that more money than ever is being spent by billionaires to support a public pension Wall Street feeding frenzy.”

After the 2014 election, that feeding frenzy is only going to intensify.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer at The International Business Times; Published in The National Memo, November 14, 2014

November 18, 2014 Posted by | Financial Industry, Public Pension System, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blacking Out The Vote”: Republicans Impose Second-Class Citizenship On People Who Threaten The Status Quo

Voters are facing an ugly surprise on their way to the voting booth on Tuesday. What most people don’t realize is that since 2006, some 34 state legislatures have worked diligently to chip away at the fundamental right to vote — and overwhelmingly, people of color are the target.

This year alone, 14 states have implemented legislation that would end same-day voter registration, limit early voting, and require voters to present forms of ID that many voters lack and cannot easily obtain. What do these measures have in common? Each would disproportionately impact African-American voters, making it more difficult for them to vote or have their vote count in a meaningful fashion.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court pulled the rug out from under decades of effective voting rights protections in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The court’s decision gave a free pass to state and local politicians manipulating voting laws for their own gain, allowing them to pick and choose who will be able to vote. That is why the right to vote is in danger across the country.

Some of these state legislatures, while attacking the right to vote, also diminish the value of each vote counted through all kinds of creative methods. Some recent examples include drawing boundaries of an election district to ensure that minority voters cannot constitute a majority, and “packing” minorities in only one or a limited number of districts to ensure they are a majority, which weakens the voting power of minority groups that could otherwise constitute an influential voting bloc. Smaller districts can also be drawn in such a way that the voting power of a minority group is reduced by dividing minorities into several districts that are predominantly white.

I know, the term “voting matters” has probably lost its value over the years because of over use, but it really does matter. Voting isn’t just about electing candidates. It’s about feeling a sense of dignity and empowering people to take part in the democratic process. It’s about influencing policies and holding the federal and state governments accountable for promoting social and economic equity for ALL people.

Withholding the right to vote is a way to impose second-class citizenship on people who threaten the status quo. Throughout our country’s history, the right to vote was denied to white men without property, African-Americans, women, Native Americans, Chinese-Americans, and adults under 21 years of age.

While the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870 and prohibited denial of the right to vote on account of race or color, in reality, African-Americans who wanted to exercise their right to vote were beaten, chased by dogs, bludgeoned by police and sometimes killed. It’s somewhat unimaginable that African-Americans were only able to vote within recent memory — with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But that’s all history, right?

Some claim today, that America is no longer plagued by the racial injustice of the civil rights era. Unfortunately, less overt strategies have been implemented more recently to block African-Americans and other minorities from the ballot. I can’t believe how close we are to losing what many fought so hard, and sometimes died, to achieve.

Now more than ever, new tools are needed to prevent voter discrimination before it happens. In January 2014, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) to repair the damage done by the Shelby decision. Congress had the opportunity to pass a new, flexible and forward-looking set of protections that work together to guarantee our right to vote — however, they failed to act on it.

In September, voting rights advocates, including myself, delivered petitions from over 500,000 voters seeking to restore VRA protections to the office of Speaker John Boehner. We found ourselves confronted by a locked door, perfect symbolism for the disenfranchisement many voters of color will experience come Tuesday. Next year the Voting Rights Act will be celebrating a dubious 50th anniversary, unless Congress acts immediately to pass new protections. Next week, voters of color will be immersed in the least protected election since the passage of the act in 1965.

The Voting Rights Act was born from the premise that all Americans have the right to vote — regardless of race or language proficiency. It was critical to the civil rights movement, turning hateful policies like poll taxes and literacy tests into historical footnotes. We cannot allow those footnotes to be rewritten into modern forms of vote suppression.

If you have any questions about your right to vote in this upcoming election, contact the ACLU at letmevote@aclu.org or call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).

 

By: Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union; The Huffington Post Blog, November 3, 2014

November 4, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Minority Voters, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Think The Midterms Don’t Matter?”: Tell That To 70,000 Poor, Uninsured People In Maine

The stakes of the 2014 midterm elections, as many have noted, seem awfully low. Yes, control of the Senate is up for grabs, but there’s only so much Republicans will be able to accomplish in the face of the veto and filibuster. As my own colleagues have pointed out, this is an overly sanguine view of the matter. But the tendency to underplay the election is especially misplaced when it comes to races for governor and state legislature. Consider Maine, where a new development in the race for governor may well have just won some 70,000 people health coverage.

Maine’s current governor is Paul LePage, a Republican elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave whose defining legacy—even more than outrageous comments such as telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” saying President Obama “hates white people” and comparing the IRS to the Gestapo—will be his profound antipathy to the social safety net that so many people rely on in Maine, New England’s poorest state. As the Wall Street Journal recently summarized, LePage, a former millworker who was the eldest of 18 children in an abusive home and a teenage runaway, “pushed for new laws that required drug testing for certain beneficiaries linked to drug crimes and created stricter income limits on childless workers who collected Medicaid. He also let a food-stamp waiver expire, a move that effectively terminates benefits for able-bodied childless workers after three months. His changes to food stamps, Medicaid and cash-assistance programs helped cut the beneficiary rolls from recent peaks by 11%, 12%, and 56%, respectively.”

And he has vetoed—not once, but thrice—the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would cover nearly 70,000 people in the state—that is, more people than live in Portland, the state’s largest city. This explains Maine’s remarkable singularity on the lower of these two eye-catching maps, where it stands out as the only state in New England with large numbers of uninsured.

How did Maine, a state that went for Barack Obama by more than 15 points in 2012, elect such a person as its governor? By a fluke. LePage got only 38 percent of the vote in 2010, but that was enough to win, as Democrats split their votes between Eliot Cutler, a wealthy businessman running as an independent, and Libby Mitchell, the Democratic state Senate president.

And as cringe-inducing as LePage’s tenure has been for a state known for a more sober form of politics, it’s been looking like LePage might just pull a repeat. Cutler is running again this year alongside a different Democrat, Congressman Mike Michaud. Cutler’s drawing less support than he got in 2010, when he far surpassed Mitchell, but he’s been getting more than enough to pose a real problem for Michaud: a Portland Press-Herald poll released over the weekend found LePage getting 45 percent to Michaud’s 35 percent, with Cutler drawing 16 percent. As averse as Maine liberals are to see LePage reelected, many simply have felt more drawn to Cutler than to Michaud, himself a former millworker who is more conservative than Cutler on abortion, gun rights, and other issues. (Michaud came out as gay last year, yet even national gay rights groups have been ambivalent about backing him over Cutler.) After months of LePage’s being declared one of the most endangered governors in the country, his prospects were improbably looking up.

Until Wednesday. At a morning press conference, Cutler sent a cryptic message that, while far short of a resignation from the race, was taken by many as a hint that it was time for his supporters to put beating LePage above all else. “I truly believe in democracy and the ultimate authority of voters to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason and I don’t think any voter, whether a supporter of mine or not, now needs or ever has needed my permission or my blessing to vote for one of my opponents,” Cutler said. “Nevertheless, I want to reiterate what I said six months ago: Anyone who has supported me but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or by their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud should do so.”

If this message was a bit too ambiguous for the liking of some Michaud supporters, it was given a whole lot more clarity later in the day. Angus King, the highly popular former governor and now U.S. senator who is an independent but caucuses with the Democrats in Washington, announced that he was switching his endorsement from Cutler to Michaud. “Like Eliot, I too am a realist. After many months considering the issues and getting to know the candidates, it is clear that the voters of Maine are not prepared to elect Eliot in 2014,” King said. “The good news is that we still have a chance to elect a governor who will represent the majority of Maine people: my friend and colleague, Mike Michaud. And today, I’d like to offer him my support….This was not an easy decision, but I think the circumstances require that those of us who have supported Eliot look realistically at the options before us at this critical moment in Maine history.”

This was surely not an easy concession for Cutler (and secondarily King) to make, but they deserve credit for acknowledging, if somewhat belatedly, where things were heading. Politics is about real people, and in the case of Maine, starkly so. Tens of thousands of low-income Maine residents are far more likely to get a lot more economic security as a result of what happened on this one day.

 

By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, October 29, 2014

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Gov Paul LePage, Maine, Mike Michaud | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Layaway Purchase Plan”: GOP Nightmare Reveals Secret Corporate Donors

Some people have myriad recurring nightmares about being publicly embarrassed, such as rising to give a speech and realizing you know nothing about the topic — then realizing you’re naked.

You might be surprised to learn though, that corporations also have such nightmares. OK, corporations aren’t really people, no matter what the Supreme Court fabulists claim, so they can’t dream, but their top executives can, and several recently suffered the same chilling hallucination. Only, it wasn’t a dream… it was real.

Perhaps you think that corporations use their campaign donations to buy privileged access to state and national policymakers. Perhaps you even think that their political money actually buys those politicians — after all, they do deliver the public policies the corporate donors want. Perhaps you think this whole monetized political system is corrupt, anti-democratic, and…well, stinky.

You would, of course, be right about all of the above. As Lily Tomlin has put it, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s almost impossible to keep up.”

The corporate purchase of Washington, DC is pretty widely reported, but — keep up now — for the kleptocratic stinkiness fast consuming our statehouses as well. The Republican Governors Association has devised a layaway purchase plan allowing brand-name corporations to make secret donations of $100,000 or more a year to the RGA in support of the corporate-friendly agenda of various GOP governors. And a lot of execs have been buying.

These are chieftains of brand-name corporate giants who have secretly funneled millions of their shareholders’ dollars into the “dark money” vault of the Republican Governors Association. In turn, the RGA channels the political cash into the campaigns of assorted right-wing governors. This underground pipeline has been a dream come true for corporations, for it lets them elect anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment governors without having to let their customers or shareholders know they’re doing it.

But — oops! — the RGA made a coding error in its database of dark-money donors. So in September, a mess of the GOP’s secret-money corporations were suddenly exposed, standing buck-naked in front of customers, employees, stockholders and others who were startled and angered to learn that the companies they supported were working against their interests.

A lifelong champion of political money reform, Fred Wertheimer, put it this way: “This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money hidden from the American people to buy influence, and how the Governors Association is selling it,”

Feed the RGA’s political favor meter with $250,000 a year (as Coca-Cola, the Koch brothers, and others do), and the association cynically anoints your corporation with the ironic title of “Statesman,” opening up gubernatorial doors throughout the country. Well, sniff the participants, the money buys nothing but “access” to policymakers. But wait — when was that access put on the auction block? Shouldn’t everyone have access to our public officials? Of course, but call your governor and see if you can even get an office intern to call back.

If you’re an RGA corporate “Statesman,” however, you could get a tête-à-tête with Rick Perry, the recently indicted governor of Texas, or a private breakfast with Bob McDonnell, the now-convicted former governor of Virginia. See, membership in the corrupt club has its privileges.

Now let’s call the roll of some of the privileged corporate dreamers that were pulling the wool over our eyes, hoping we would slumber in ignorance: Aetna, Aflac, Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Exxon Mobil, Hewlett-Packard, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Novartis, Pfizer, Shell Oil, United Health, Verizon, Walgreens and Walmart.

The corporate donors to this previously secret scheme of plutocratic rule says it’s OK, for they also give money to Democrats. Oh, bipartisan corruption — that makes me feel so much better… how about you?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 1, 2014

October 6, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, GOP, Republican Governors Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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