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“Where Is The Republican Voter Expansion Project?”: Republicans Used To Support Voting Rights—What Happened?

During a speech on Friday at the National Action Network, President Obama made his strongest and most extensive comments yet on the topic of voting rights. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of voter suppression efforts was hardly a coincidence. New voting restrictions took effect in nineteen states from 2011–12. Nine states under GOP control have adopted measures to make it more difficult to vote since 2013. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, half of the states (eight in total) previously covered under Section 5 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions.

These laws, from voter ID to cutting early voting to restricting voter registration, have been passed under the guise of stopping voter fraud, although there’s scant evidence that such fraud exists. Obama cited a comprehensive study by News21 that found only ten cases of in-person voter impersonation since 2000. “The real voter fraud,” the president said, “is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”

Obama’s speech highlighted how Democratic leaders are embracing the cause of voting rights. (Attorney General Eric Holder has made it a signature issue, with the DOJ filing lawsuits against new voting restrictions in Texas and North Carolina last year.)

A day before arriving in New York, Obama spoke about civil rights at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act—where the subject of contemporary attacks on voting rights came up often. “Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for?” asked Bill Clinton. “Is this what Lyndon Johnson employed his legendary skills for? Is this what America has become a great thriving democracy for? To restrict the franchise?”

Democratic presidential hopefuls like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have recently championed voting rights. The Democratic National Committee has launched a new Voter Expansion Project and veterans of the Obama campaign started iVote to elect Democratic secretaries of state in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Nevada. Democrats hope that an appeal to voting rights will help mobilize key constituencies, like in 2012, when a backlash against GOP voter suppression efforts increased African-American turnout. “The single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote,” Obama said on Friday.

It’s great that Democratic leaders are finally recognizing the severity of the attack on voting rights. But it’s sad that Republicans are almost unanimously supporting the restriction of voting rights rather than the expansion of the franchise.

Things weren’t always this way. In his new book about the Civil Rights Act, An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Todd Purdum tells the story of Bill McCulloch, a conservative Republican from Ohio who championed civil rights as the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. The Politico excerpt from the book was titled “The Republican Who Saved Civil Rights.”

There would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Voting Rights Act of 1965 without the support of Republicans like McCulloch and Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. For decades after the 1960s, voting rights legislation had strong bipartisan support in Congress. Every reauthorization of the VRA—in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006—was signed by a Republican president and supported by an overwhelming number of Republicans in Congress.

Republicans like Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, an heir to McCulloch who as the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee oversaw the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA and is co-sponsoring a new fix for the VRA, used to be the norm within the GOP. Now he’s the rare Republican who still believes the GOP should remain the party of Lincoln. Where is the Republican Voter Expansion Project?

It’s also unfortunate that many in the media continue to report on voting rights like it’s a left-versus-right issue, as if supporting a fundamental democratic right suddenly makes one a flaming liberal. Jamie Fuller of The Washington Post called voting rights “the Democrats’ most important project in 2014.” Michael Shear of The New York Times dubbed Obama’s speech an effort “to rally his political base.”

The right to vote used to be regarded as a moral issue, not a partisan one. As President Johnson said when he introduced the VRA before Congress: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”

As long as Democrats are the party of voting rights and Republicans are the party of voter suppression, the right to vote will continue to be under siege.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, April 14, 2014

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Show Me The Medicaid Money”: Buckle Up Republicans, Obamacare Is Here To Stay

Somewhat quietly, Obamacare enrollment hit 4 million this week. Now, it’s certainly true—as critics have noted—that enrollees aren’t the same thing as people who will continue to stay with their plan for a full year. If an enrollee encounters an unexpected expense of replacing a head gasket or something like that, he might skip a payment. But even so, 4 million’s a more-than-respectable number.

Also rather quietly this week, a new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed support for repeal of Obamacare down to 31 percent. As Jay Bookman noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, overall the poll wasn’t something the president would exactly brag about, but it did represent noticeable change, especially among independents, 57 percent of whom now support the law.

That 31 percent number made me sit up straight for one reason. The percent of Americans who identify themselves as conservative is, lately, about 38 percent, says Gallup. So 31 percent is getting down there. And consider this: As of mid-December 2013, the percentage of Americans who favored repeal was 52.3 percent in a Real Clear Politics average of numerous polls. The Affordable Care Act may not be as popular as Twelve Years a Slave, but it’s not The Lone Ranger anymore either.

I would think there’s a direct correlation between these two sets of facts, no? The more people go to the web site and see that they can get insurance at a decent price (in most cases), the more they tell their co-workers and neighbors that doing so wasn’t the horror show they expected. The more people learn about some of the law’s benefits, the more opposition to it softens.

There are still a few more things the American people need to learn about the law, though, and it’s up to the Democrats to tell them, and I’m going to bang on about this until I see some action. As I wrote Wednesday, Governor Rick Perry has said no to $9 billion in free money. Texas is the largest state in the union that hasn’t accepted the Medicaid expansion money, so that’s the biggest figure, but the figures are significant in relation to the population and budget in every single state.

These figures are from a Commonwealth Foundation report from three months ago. Florida is saying no to $9.6 billion, Georgia to $4.9 billion, North Carolina to $5.7 billion. Wisconsin is passing on $1.75 billion, Virginia on $2.15 billion, and Pennsylvania on $5.5 billion (although Pennsylvania is considering the opt-in). And this report’s figure for Texas is actually $9.6 billion.

You know how states clamor for federal highway money? Well, as Commonwealth points out, in every one of these cases, the Medicaid money is more—at least double, typically, and sometimes far more—than what these states get in highway money. And yet they say they don’t want it. They say that over time, they’re going to be on the hook for vast expenditures they can’t afford, or they fret publicly that Washington might change the formula. They’re both bogus arguments.

The federal government is paying 100 percent of states’ expansion costs through 2016 and no less than 90 percent thereafter on a permanent basis. It’s a sweet deal. But okay, what about that (up to) 10 percent that states are going to have to start paying? Ten percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but in dollar terms, isn’t that real money?

The answer is, not really, in most cases. This gets complicated and involves a category of spending by the states for something called “uncompensated care,” which is just what it sounds like—health care provided for free to poor people. State and local governments typically pitch in now on uncompensated care. But as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains in a 2012 report: “The Medicaid expansion will reduce state and local government costs for uncompensated care and other services they provide to the uninsured, which will offset at least some—and in a number of states, possibly all or more than all—of the modest increase in state Medicaid costs.” Overall, the health-care consulting firm The Lewin Group estimates a minimal increase in states’ spending obligations, around 1 or 2 percent, depending on the state.

As for the argument that some GOP governors make that they fear Washington might change the formula…well, that’s straight from Orwell or Kafka. That is: Barack Obama isn’t going to change any formula. President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be changing any formula. A Democratically controlled Congress won’t be changing any formulas. Only Republican presidents and congresses would do that. In other words, these Republican governors are saying—yeah, the deal looks fine now, but my party might take over, and then I’d be really screwed!

The ACA is here to stay. It’s not going to be struck down. It’s not going to be repealed. That would require a Republican president and 60 GOP senators and a solid GOP House majority, and the odds are strongly against the emergence of such a confluence. It’s going to exist. And inevitably, it’s going to grow. And more and more people are going to get used to it and learn to live with it. And over time, the people in states like Texas and Georgia and Wisconsin are going to see that people in nearby states that took the money are in fact pretty happy with their situations.

It’s only a matter of time before these resistant governors and state legislatures start caving. Democrats have it in their power to help hasten that timetable by making this an issue. They have to have the courage not to wilt or get the vapors whenever a right-winger invokes the evil gummint or the hated Kenyan. Democrats say they’ve waited decades for this moment. Well, it’s here. Now’s not the time to run away from the fight.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 28, 2014

March 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Ted Nugent Problem”: Torn Between Expanding Its Base And Appealing To Loyalists

The Republican Party in the era of the Tea Party and the “autopsy” can’t make up its mind. Torn between expanding its base so that it can survive in the long term and appeasing its loyalists so it can survive in the short term, the party doesn’t know where to go. The choice boils down to winning a few more seats in November and writing off the future of the party. Oddly, November seems to be winning every time.

For Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott the choice seems easy. He chose Ted Nugent, the physical embodiment of the off-the-rails toxicity that Republicans just don’t know how to quit. Abbott certainly had to know the stir he’d cause when he invited Nugent to join him on the campaign trail last week.

Ted Nugent is not just a former rocker who happens to be a Republican. Nugent’s infamous “subhuman mongrel” slur is just a representative sample of the bile he produces on a regular basis. He has threatened the president, saying, “Obama, he’s a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun,” told an audience to “keep a fucking gun in your hand, boys” in response to the Obama administration, implied the president is like a coyote who needs to be shot, and said before the 2012 election that if the “vile, evil America-hating” Obama were to be reelected, Nugent would be “either dead or in jail by this time next year.”(For the record, Nugent is still very much alive and free to make statements like the above.)

Why listen to Nugent (as People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch does more often than they would probably like)? Because he doesn’t just shout his rants from the stage at his concerts. He shares the stage with people like Greg Abbott.

In a time when many Republicans are trying to moderate the rhetoric they use to explain their extreme policies, Greg Abbott is just the latest who apparently has no such concerns. He ‘s more than happy to provide a platform for Nugent, an unabashedly violent, and unapologetic racist spokesperson who exults in attacking the president- – when the president is Barack Obama, that is.

Nugent has speculated whether “it would have been best had the South won the Civil War”; suggested banning people who owe no federal income tax from voting; lashed out at “those well-fed motherfucker food stamp cocksuckers”; and blamed Trayvon Martin’s death on the “mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America.”

In other words, Nugent’s not the sort of person any reasonable candidate would invite along on the campaign trail. But reason is not the way to prove one’s bona fides to a large share of the Tea Party that has taken over the Grand Old Party. When Nugent said in a campaign appearance that “we don’t have to question Greg Abbott’s courage, because he invited me here today,” he was reassuring the base that “autopsy reports” aside, the GOP has no intention of changing.

And that’s the problem. Ted Nugent isn’t a Greg Abbott gaffe. His presence on the Abbott campaign trail represents a deliberate effort to cultivate the most extreme elements of the Republican base. The party can moderate its positions to attract more voters. Or it can stick with extremism to keep a core of the voters it has. But it can’t have it both ways.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People for The American Way ; The Huffington Post Blog, February 27, 2014

February 28, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Indefensible By Any Measure”: Ted Nugent And How The Conservative Press Can’t Hide Its Hate Streak

It’s too soon to tell whether Ted Nugent’s noxious career as a conservative pundit reached a tipping point this week, but the moment he called in sick to CNN and backed out of a scheduled interview with Erin Burnett as Republican politicians denounced him might soon be seen as a flash point for the fading rock star and the incendiary brand of hate rhetoric he’s been cashing in on for years. It might also be viewed as a key stumbling moment for the conservative media, which have been unable in recent years to establish any sort of guardrails for common decency within the realm of political debate.

Increasingly reliant on bad fringe actors like Nugent to connect with their far, far-right audience, the conservative media have built up Obama-bashing personalities who no longer occupy any corner of the American mainstream. Yet Nugent enjoys deep ties with Republican campaigns all across the country. When those ties receive media scrutiny, they cannot be defended.

National Rifle Association board member Nugent found himself at the center of a campaign controversy this week when he was invited to two public events for Texas Republican Greg Abbott, who is running for governor. Of course Nugent, a former Washington Times columnist who now writes for birther website WND, recently called President Obama a “communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel” and has a long and vivid history of launching vile attacks on women. (He’s called Hillary Clinton a “toxic c**t.”)

Following waves of condemnations for the association, and a torrent of critical media coverage, with reporters and pundits wondering why a gubernatorial candidate would voluntarily campaign with someone who spouts “insane and racist talk,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, Abbott claimed he wasn’t aware of Nugent’s history of racist and misogynistic comments. If so, Abbott’s campaign staff is utterly incompetent. (The “subhuman mongrel” comment, unearthed last month by Media Matters, was highlighted by a number of outlets at the time, including on MSNBC.)

It’s likely Abbott and his staff did know about Nugent’s dark rhetoric, since that’s all he traffics in. But because that kind of hate speech has become so accepted and even celebrated within the bubble for right-wing media, they failed to see the danger of embracing it.

Following the ill-fated campaign events, which made national headlines, Abbott has defended the decision to bring Nugent to the state, claiming that in Texas politics Nugent remain popular. But if inviting Nugent to become an Abbott surrogate was so clever, why did likely Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul step forward to denounce Nugent and his “offensive” Obama commentary?

Why did Abbott’s fellow Texan, Gov. Rick Perry “recommend” Nugent apologize? And why did Nugent back out of his CNN interview just two hours before taping?

As the media scrutiny settled on Nugent, even staunch conservative Republicans have been unable to defend him — his commentary over the years is just too vile. If the Abbott campaign didn’t directly insist on the CNN cancellation (Nugent cited illness), it’s fair to say his aides were greatly relieved that Nugent didn’t fuel the story for another 24-hour news cycle via an extended CNN interview where no doubt more confused Nazi analogies would have been aired. (CNN’s Wolf Blitzer had already condemned Nugent’s comments, noting that the phrase “subhuman mongrel” bore resemblance to “untermensch,” which is “what the Nazis called Jews … to justify the genocide of the Jewish community.”)

And then there was Fox News, Nugent’s longtime ally in the pursuit of Obama demagoguery, and where just last month Bill O’Reilly welcomed Nugent. As Abbott’s self-inflicted wound deepened this week, and as news outlets all across the country addressed the clumsy campaign association, Fox News went silent. Not only refusing to defend Nugent, Fox wouldn’t even cover the burgeoning controversy.

The network — which was happy to give Nugent a softball interview just two weeks ago — still hasn’t mentioned the firestorm over his campaigning with Abbott.

Ted Nugent has been practicing his brand of openly vile hate for a very long time. And with each passing year of the Obama administration he’s been welcomed deeper and deeper into the heart of the conservative media machine. This week’s Abbott uproar was instructive in that the bright spotlight shone on Nugent helped remind people just how radical, dangerous and out of touch that movement has become, and how that hate cannot be hidden.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 21, 2014

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Particularly Cruel Joke”: Texas Lawmakers Celebrate “Achievements” In Women’s Health As Thousands Go Without Care

The consequences of Texas’ sweeping new abortion restrictions are now being felt across the state, but the status of reproductive healthcare in Texas had been dire long before conservative lawmakers passed the omnibus measure to shutter reproductive health clinics, restrict safe abortion services and leave thousands of women without access to necessary care.

Texas lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that cut $73 million from family planning programs; the following year, Rick Perry dissolved the state’s partnership with the federal Women’s Health Program, forfeiting millions in Medicaid funding for low-income women’s healthcare. Lawmakers restored some of this funding in 2013, but reproductive health providers like Planned Parenthood are barred from receiving it. That Perry has refused the Medicaid expansion has further compounded the crisis that has been building in the state, the blunt impact of which disproportionately impacts low-income women of color.

Republican “reforms” to the system have resulted in a 77 percent drop in the number of women being served by state health clinics at an additional cost of around 20 percent. The maternal mortality rate — particularly among women of color — is on the rise, and Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

It is in this context that the Texas Health and Human Services committee’s decision to hold a hearing on the “progress” the state has made in women’s healthcare seems like a particularly cruel joke. The committee intends to “build on previous legislative achievements in women’s healthcare,” according to a statement on the hearing.

Activists in the state, who have remained focused on challenging the rollback of reproductive rights in the months since Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster, descended on Austin Thursday to provide testimony and protest the show hearing.

“When I heard about the hearing — well, I felt like if the Daily Show was going to create a parody, they couldn’t have done a better job,” Amy Kamp, one of the women providing testimony at the hearing, told ThinkProgress. “If Texas wants to protect women’s health, I have a helpful suggestion. Just reinstate the old program we used to have!”

“It’s laughable that the same politicians that have devastated Texas women’s access to healthcare — cancer screenings, birth control, and safe, legal abortion — are now touting their so-called achievements in women’s health,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. ”If that’s what they call help for Texas women, we’ve had quite enough of it.”

 

By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, February 20, 2014

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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