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“Texas’ Poll Tax In Disguise”: A Republican Voter Exclusion Campaign

In 1964, the American people enacted the 24th Amendment, to prevent the exclusion of the poor from the ballot box. In his speech last week at the NAACP convention, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. wasn’t indulging in election-year rhetoric when he condemned Texas’ 2011 voter photo identification law as a poll tax that could do just that. He was speaking the hard legal truth.

The Justice Department would be right to challenge this new law as an unconstitutional poll tax. The department has temporarily blocked the Texas law under special provisions of the Voting Rights Act that prevent states with a history of discrimination from disadvantaging minority groups. But the

attorney general should go further and raise a 24th Amendment challenge against Texas and other states that are joining the effort to bar the poor from the polls. This exclusionary campaign should not be allowed to destroy a great constitutional achievement of the civil rights revolution.

The 24th Amendment forbids the imposition of “any poll tax or other tax” in federal elections. Texas’ law flatly violates this provision in dealing with would-be voters who don’t have a state-issued photo ID. To obtain an acceptable substitute, they must travel to a driver’s license office and submit appropriate documents, along with their fingerprints, to establish their qualifications. If they don’t have the required papers, they must pay $22 for a copy of their birth certificate.

If they can’t come up with the money for the qualifying documents, they can’t vote. But the 24th Amendment denies states the power to create such a financial barrier to the ballot box.

Texas’ violation is particularly blatant. In drafting its law, the Legislature rejected a provision that would have provided free copies of the necessary documents. Rather than paying for this service out of the general revenue fund, it chose to disqualify voters who couldn’t pay the fee. This is precisely the choice forbidden by the Constitution.

The 24th Amendment doesn’t only invalidate the $22 tax. Texas also can’t impose unnecessarily arduous certification procedures. The Supreme Court took up this issue shortly after the amendment was ratified in 1964. The state of Virginia had told its citizens they could avoid its $1.50 poll tax only if they filed a formal certificate establishing their residency. Lars Forssenius and others refused to comply, and a near-unanimous Supreme Court in 1965 agreed with them. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the ruling that the state’s administraton of its residency certificate requirement was a “real obstacle to voting in federal elections” that “abridged” the franchise. He emphasized that constitutional end-runs were not permitted. “For federal elections,” he explained, “the poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed.”

This broad functional view of taxation is firmly rooted in our constitutional tradition. In his recent opinion in the healthcare case, for example, Chief Justice John G. RobertsJr.adopted the same approach in finding that the “penalty” imposed by the Affordable Care Act was the functional equivalent of a tax.

But in Warren’s ruling, the same broad approach to taxation led to a very different conclusion. Unlike Roberts, Warren was not marking out the boundaries of congressional power. He was restricting the power of the states to impose unnecessary administrative barriers that were the functional equivalents of poll taxes.

Applying Warren’s approach to the present day has large practical implications. The estimated number of registered voters in Texas without valid IDs ranges from 167,000 (according to the state) to more than 1 million (according to the federal government). The Justice Department also emphasizes that minority groups are disproportionately affected. What is more, 10 other states have passed similar laws in the last two years alone. All these statutes raise fundamental problems under the 24th Amendment.

Curiously, these problems have been overlooked in the escalating wave of challenges to this recent round of exclusionary legislation. Civil rights lawyers have focused instead on more familiar texts such as the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Though these provisions are important, they were created in response to a host of other issues. The poll tax amendment, in contrast, was focused on the very problem that now threatens again to undermine our democracy: imposing costs on the poor that prevent them from voting.

The attorney general was right to recall the amendment from legal obscurity, and to insist that we remember the determined effort by the civil rights generation to end this disgraceful practice forever.


By: Bruce Ackerman and Jennifer Nou, The Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Reek Of Entitlement”: The GOP Only Represents The Super-Rich

“Too much money” sounds like an oxymoron, especially when applied to American politics. But in the last week, Republicans are beginning to learn that lots of money can have its downside. Thursday’s story that Romney may have actively directed Bain Capital three years longer than he claimed – a period in which Bain Capital-managed companies experienced bankruptcies and layoffs – caps what must be the worst weekly news cycle of any modern American presidential candidate. From images of corporate raiding, to luxury speedboats, to offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, to mega-mansions in the Hamptons, this week’s stories suggest that the candidacy of Mitt Romney – poster-boy for the symbiotic relationship between big money and the modern Republican party – is in serious trouble.

Last weekend’s photos of the Romney clan on a luxury speedboat cruising around a lake in New Hampshire, where their multimillion-dollar compound sits, were startling in their tone-deafness. And just to make sure the sentiment wasn’t lost on anyone, at a campaign event the same week, Obama recounted childhood memories of touring the US with his grandmother by Greyhound bus, even the thrill of staying at a Howard Johnson motel. In a smart political calculation, the Obamas chose to forgo their annual summer vacation in Cape Cod (a nice upper-middle class vacation spot, mind you, but nowhere near the same league as the Romney estate). Instead, Obama was photographed visiting a senior citizens’ home in the battleground state of Ohio.

And the hits kept coming. Next, Vanity Fair published an article listing the Romneys’ various offshore investment accounts worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in the secretive tax havens of Cayman Islands and Bermuda, as well as a since-closed Swiss bank account. Democrats stoked the predictable outrage from the revelations. On the Sunday ABC news program “This Week”, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley thundered:

“Mitt Romney bets against America. He bet against America when he put his money in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens and shelters.”

On the same program, Bobbie Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana, could only lamely respond:

“In terms of Governor Romney’s financial success, I’m happy that he’s a successful businessman.”

While there is no evidence that the Romneys illegally evaded taxes through their various offshore accounts (their secretiveness making it impossible to tell), the reek of entitlement became overwhelming when it was revealed that the Romneys had accumulated somewhere between $20m and $101m in an “IRA”, a tax-advantaged retirement account designed for middle-class savers, limited to a few thousand dollars a year contribution. As one commenter parried, “I may be stupid, but I ain’t no fool.” In other words, we might be too stupid to understand how Romney was able to obtain all these tax breaks legally, but we aren’t fooled about unfairness of it all.

Well, at this point, you might think that the next sighting of Romney would be of him clothed in ash-cloth ladling out soup at an inner-city soup kitchen. But no. Next, we were regaled with the New York Times story of a lavish fundraiser in the Hamptons hosted by the infamous David Koch, the billionaire benefactor of conservative causes. The optics were worse than bad, as the Times recounted how one woman in a Range Rover, idling in a 30-deep line of cars waiting for entry, yelled to a Romney aide, “Is there a VIP entrance? We are VIP.”

Romney was expected to haul in several million dollars from his trip to wine and dine with the billionaires of the Hamptons. But why risk confirming the very message that Democrats have been hammering upon: that Romney is a super-wealthy elitist whose objective is to further the interests of the 0.01%?

Certainly, billionaires for Romney would have given him those millions without the face-time and the photo-ops, the chance to dress up and be seen. And to be heckled by Occupy Wall Street protesters and parodied by reporters. What is so very puzzling about the whole episode is the sheer in-your-face-ness of it.

Yet, perhaps that is the point. As a very perceptive article in the New York Magazine, Lisa Miller describes how new psychological research indicates that wealth erodes empathy with others. In the “Money-Empathy Gap”, Miller cites one researcher who says that:

“The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

Researchers found a consistent correlation between higher income, management responsibility and disagreeableness. One researcher interpreted her findings to imply that money makes people disinterested in the welfare of others. “It’s not a bad analogy to think of them as a little autistic” says Kathleen Vos, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

If this research is accurate (as it seems to be, replicated in various ways by several researches), the synergies between it, the increasing concentration of wealth and the Citizens United ruling, have striking implications for the future of the Republican party. As Newt Gingrich, the uber-southern politician, plaintively explained how he lost the Republican primary: “Romney had 16 billionaires. I had only one.” The domination by the super-wealthy means that Republicans not only have no interest in the welfare of the rest of the 99.9%, they have no understanding of why this is a problem. The noblesse oblige days of the old money, such as the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Roosevelts are long gone, replaced by the new mega-money of hedge funds, corporate raiders and global industrialists.

How else can one explain the allegiance of the Republican party to the profoundly unpopular Ryan tax plan, which would eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid while delivering more tax cuts to the rich? What is the future of a party in a democracy when the powers-that-be can no longer even understand, much less address, the welfare of the vast majority of its citizens?

Taking the hint, the Obama administration is finally positioning itself firmly on the side of progressives, attacking income inequality and holding Republicans accountable for their assaults on the middle and working classes. How ironic it would be if, after all, the other side’s big money is the answer to the Democrats’ prayers.


By: Robin Wells, The Guardian, July 12, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Republican Party Is Becoming Goofy”: Judge Richard Posner Bashes Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling

The American political system is marked by legal corruption in which “wealthy people essential bribe legislators” with campaign contributions, according to one of the nation’s most influential federal judges.

Speaking to foreign educators, Judge Richard Posner told the assembled that the wealthy give lots of money to legislators and that an individual legislator “knows that if he doesn’t promote the interests of the donor,” he won’t get any more money.

Posner is a renowned member of the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He is not only the nation’s most prolific jurist-academic, he is seen by some as the most influential judge outside of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Posner is intellectually fearless and, increasingly, far from the reflexively conservative thinker that he’s been long seen to be. In a recent National Public Radio interview, he spoke of the “real deterioration in conservative thinking” in recent years. “I’ve become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy.”

Posner has taken a poke at the high court’s controversial ruling before. But he’s taking his disdain for the decision to a broader audience. His latest comments came at a post-luncheon appearance Thursday before visiting Asian legal academics at the University of Chicago Law School, where he remains a faculty member.

Posner left no doubt about his criticism of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign-finance decision. He said, “Our political system is pervasively corrupt due to our Supreme Court taking away campaign-contribution restrictions on the basis of the First Amendment.”

He also didn’t mind naming some names, in particular that of Justice Antonin Scalia, a onetime member of the law school faculty who lectured and taught at the school in February. Posner brought up the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, affirming the right of individuals to have handguns at home for self-defense.

Posner doesn’t think the Second Amendment has anything to do with an individual’s right to bear arms, a basis of the decision for which Scalia wrote the majority opinion.

“That didn’t slow down Scalia,” Posner told his Asian listeners. “He loves guns. He’s a hunter.”


By: James Warren, The Daily Beast, July 14, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“That’s All That’s Necessary”: Mitt Romney, “I’m Not Releasing Any More Tax Returns”

The most newsy item of Mitt Romney’s media blitz of network interview after network interview Friday night was his bold statement that he would not release any more tax returns than the two years he has already planned, despite growing pressure from President Barack Obama, Democrats and even some Republicans.

He said basically the same thing in every interview, but we’ll pick out two — from CBS with Jan Crawford and CNN with Jim Acosta. Here’s what he told CBS’ Crawford:

CRAWFORD: Governor you mentioned the tax returns. You’ve released one year of your tax returns. A lot of people are saying you should release more, you’ve got to go back to the early 1980s for a Republican — or a presidential candidate who has only released one year of tax returns. Are you going to be releasing more tax returns?

GOV. ROMNEY: Yes, I’ll be releasing this year’s tax returns as soon as they’re available. And uh – But I know, by the way, you can never satisfy the opposition research team of the Obama organization. They’ll always want more. And the answer is they’ll have this year’s and last year’s and that’s the information that, by the way, is not required by law. It’s the same type of information that was provided by Senator McCain and his campaign. It gives people a full review of my income and my expenses and that kind of matter. I’ll tell ya, it’s quite a process running for president. You obviously provide all the information you can about yourself and then you have all the opposition team say some pretty outrageous things which I think are very, very disappointing on their part.

And here’s what he told CNN’s Acosta:

First of all, we’ve complied with the law. The law requires us to put out a full financial disclosure. That I’ve done. And then, in addition to that, I’ve already put out one year of tax returns. We’ll put out the next year of tax returns as soon as the accountants have that ready. And that’s what we’re going to put out.

I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And, you know, we’re putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances. And, look, if people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don’t want to go there.


By: Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, July 13, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Saving His Own Skin”: Rep Steve King, States Can Ban Birth Control, But Not Foie Gras

Californians have recently voted to enact laws banning the sale and production of both eggs from cruelly housed hens and foie gras, a delicacy created by force-feeding ducks. While this may seem within the legal bounds of a state’s ability to regulate local commerce, one Congressman is up in arms about it: Steve King (R, IA). King, despite being one of the most outspoken proponents of states’ rights in Congress, is so convinced that California’s laws violate the Commerce Clause that he pushed through legislation overturning the animal rights acts and similar statutes in other states:

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who represents the country’s leading egg-producing state, said he introduced the amendment because the California law and others like it “scrambles and creates a patchwork quilt of state regulations.”

“If California wants to regulate eggs that come into the state, fine,” King said. “But don’t be telling the states that are producing a product that’s already approved by the USDA or the FDA how to produce that product.”

He said that the California requirement violates the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce issues.

King believes the entire Affordable Care Act – not simply the mandate, but the whole law – is an unconstitutional use of federal power under the Commerce Clause. This means that, according to King, any federal regulation of the insurance industry is unconstitutional. King also thinks states can ban contraception. These radical beliefs aren’t a surprise: King adheres to an extreme interpretation of the Tenth Amendment which aims to gut federal power.

So King appears to to think federal regulation of farming is constitutional, but regulation of the health care industry is not. A state ban on birth control is fine, but banning foie gras isn’t.

Of course, King has a perfectly good reason for going against his principles: saving his own skin. King is in the midst of a bruising reelection battle as a consequence of redistricting. The largest industry spending on his behalf is big agribusiness, which isn’t thrilled about California’s laws. King’s home state of Iowa has no standards for ethical caging of egg-producing hens, a fact which was linked to a significant salmonella outbreak in 2010.

King’s bill is so broadly worded that it might also overturn state safety standards for other agricultural products, including fruit, milk, and vegetables. It is currently attached as an amendment to the House Farm Bill, which would also take food stamps away from millions of needy Americans.


By: Zack Beauchamp, Think Progress, July 14, 2012

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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