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“Southern De-Construction”: With Voter Suppression, The Confederacy Rises Again

On Sunday I attended a fascinating panel of Southern politics experts convened by UNC-Chapel Hill. One of the major takeaways from the session was how diverse the South has become. For instance, Charlotte, the host city of the DNC, is now 45 percent white, 35 percent African-American and 13 percent Hispanic.

Among baby boomers aged 55–64, the South is 72 percent white. Among kids 15 or under, the South is 51 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic, 21 percent African-American and 6 percent other (which includes Asian-Americans and Native-Americans). In North Carolina, people of color accounted for 61 percent of the 1.5 million new residents the state gained over the past decade. Since 2008, the black and Hispanic share of eligible voters in North Carolina has grown by 2.5 percent, while the percentage of the white vote has decreased by a similar margin. This increasing diversity allowed Obama to win the Southern states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in 2008—all of which are competitive again in 2012.

The region’s changing demographics are a “ticking time bomb for Republicans,” said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. The Southern GOP is 88 percent white. The Southern Democratic Party is 50 percent white, 36 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other. The GOP’s dominance among white voters—who favor Romney over Obama by 26 points in the region—has allowed Republicans to control most of the region politically. But that will only be the case for so long if demographic trends continue to accelerate. Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote.

Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP. Some of these changes have been mitigated by recent federal and state court rulings against the GOP, yet it’s still breathtaking to consider the different ways Republicans have sought to suppress the minority vote in the region.

– Laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Virginia tightened a looser voter ID law. A federal court blocked Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law last week and will rule on South Carolina’s law shortly. Mississippi and Alabama must also receive preclearance for their voter ID laws—which are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and 2014—from a federal court in Washington or the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. According to a 2005 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of US citizens don’t have government-issued IDs, but the number is 25 percent among African-Americans.

– Laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote were passed in Alabama and Tennessee. Restrictions on voter registration drives were enacted in Florida and Texas. Florida’s law has been overturned by a federal court. Texas’s law has also been blocked by a state judge. Data from the 2004 and 2008 elections in Florida show that “African-American and Hispanic citizens are about twice as likely to register to vote through drives as white voters,” according to Project Vote.

– Early voting periods were reduced in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. African-Americans in states like Florida were twice as likely to cast ballots during early voting as white voters. According to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, 800,000 voters in Florida cast ballots during early voting hours in 2008 eliminated by the GOP. A federal court overturned the law in the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

– Florida also prevented felons convicted of non-violent crimes from voting after they’ve served their time, which disenfranchised nearly 200,000 Floridians who would have been eligible to vote in 2012. Blacks are 13 percent of registered voters in Florida but 23 percent of disenfranchised felons.

– Only three Southern states—Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—did not pass restrictive voting laws since 2010. North Carolina Democratic Governor Bev Perdue twice vetoed efforts by North Carolina Republicans to pass a strict voter ID law before the 2012 election. If GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory wins in November, it’s all but certain a tough voter ID law will be among the first pieces of legislation he signs.

– In conjunction with these new voting restrictions, Republicans all across the South used their control of state legislatures following 2010 to pass redistricting maps that will lead to a re-segregation of Southern politics, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority minority” districts as possible as a way to maximize the number of Republican seats. “Their goal is to make the Republican Party a solidly white party and to make the Democratic Party a majority African-American one,” says Kareem Crayton, professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill and an expert on voting rights in the South. The Texas redistricting maps, which a federal court ruled last week were “enacted with discriminatory purpose,” are simply a more extreme version of an effort that has been replicated in virtually every Southern state to undercut black and Hispanic political representation.

The consequences of these changes will be to make it harder for growing minority populations to be able to cast a ballot in much of the South and to make the region more segregated politically at a time when it is becoming more diverse demographically. “The net effect is that the potential for any coalition to exist in the Democratic Party of moderate-to-progressive whites and African-American voters is pretty much decimated,” says Crayton. Obama is betting he can once again turn out such a coalition in states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, but that task has become tougher in 2012. The outlook for state and local Democrats in the region is far bleaker.

The regression in the South today when it comes to voting rights is eerily reminiscent of tragic earlier periods in the region’s beleaguered racial history. “After Reconstruction, we saw efforts by conservative whites in Southern state legislatures to cut back on opportunities for black Americans to cast a ballot,” says Crayton. “It’s hard to dismiss the theory that what we’re seeing today is a replay of that scenario.”

Today, four southern states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas) are supporting a constitutional challenge to Section 5 originating in Shelby County, Alabama. When Republicans in Tampa yearned for the good ‘ol days, it was hard not to get the feeling that they were thinking of a time in the South when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, September 4, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“By The People, For The People”: Proof Obamacare Puts Control Of Healthcare In The Hands Of The Consumer

One of the key talking points consistently mouthed by opponents of the Affordable Care Act is their declaration that the law wrests control of healthcare out from the hands of the consumer and places it squarely under the control of the federal government.

And yet, the meme—like so many others employed by dedicated Obamacare bashers— is simply not true.

Now, we can prove it.

You have likely never heard about the section of the ACA that provides federal loans to help launch consumer owned and controlled health insurance plans. The money is available for insurance plans showing a reasonable chance for success, are owned by the membership (people like you and I) and operated by a board of directors where members comprise the majority -not passive investors looking to make a buck.

It is health insurance by the people and for the people.

Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts—along with their physician group and a company which owns and operates two hospitals in the region—has acted on this provision of the law and received $88.5 million in federal funds to create the state’s first member owned and controlled health insurance plan. While the program is being put together by a panel of experts, once the insurance plan is qualified to do business by the state’s insurance regulators, they will begin signing up individuals and small businesses who will not only become the owners of the plan, they will ultimately end up running the company.

How’s that for putting control of our healthcare back into the hands of the consumer?

The not-for-profit plan entitled the Minuteman Health Initiative—which expects to offer health insurance coverage in Eastern and Central Massachusetts beginning in 2014—is looking to bring down the cost of premiums to its members by streamlining the billing process and allowing providers to work directly with employers.

According to Dr. Jeff Lasker, chief executive of the Tufts physician group, New England Quality Care Alliance, “Imagine working closely with an employer who can help us gather data and, with employees’ permission, to be able to share that data with their primary care providers. “

Imagine, indeed.

Physicians, hospitals and consumers working alongside one another to design coverage options that better meet the needs of all the participants in the healthcare equation in the effort to bring about a better result for everyone—and done in an environment where the consumer is in control of the board of directors rather than profit driven executives whose bonuses are determined by how much money is left in the till at the end of the quarter.

Can there be anyone who does not see the great potential in this concept?

We are a nation where our health care is, for most of our citizens, controlled by private insurance companies—not the United States government. If you don’t believe that, just ask your physician what he or she must go through to get an insurance company to approve a treatment or procedure you need and how you end up paying for all this time your doctor invests in fighting for your care.

Will the Minuteman Health Initiative work? Will it accomplish the goal of lowering costs and providing appropriate benefits to consumers while allowing for a workable compensation structure to health care providers—all under the direction of the very people who depend on the plan for their health care needs?

We’ll see.

But if you don’t try something, you never find better solutions. And should the Minuteman plan work out, we can expect to see similar programs launched in every state in the union—insurance plans designed to work for both provider and beneficiary and all under the control of the people who actually pay the premiums and depend upon the benefits for the security of their families.

I don’t care how much you think you detest Obamacare. If you aren’t rooting for success in the case of the Minuteman Health Initiative—and the law that made it possible—you simply are not paying attention.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, Forbes, September 1, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Obama Exception”: Why The “Are You Better Off” Line Won’t Work For Republicans

Martin O’Malley, Maryland’s very ambitious Democratic governor, stepped in it a bit on Sunday when he said that Americans aren’t better off today than they were four years ago.

It was a dream sound bite for Republicans, who seem convinced that swing voters will ultimately turn on President Obama if they feel the same way. Not surprisingly, Obama’s team moved quickly to provide a different answer, and O’Malley has since said that he thinks Americans are “clearly better off” now.

This illustrates the tricky spot Obama is in. He obviously can’t run the kind of feel good reelection campaign that every incumbent president dreams of, and he risks seeming like he’s trying to spin away the very real anxiety millions of Americans still feel whenever he claims his policies are working or highlights an encouraging economic statistic. But staying mute is hardly an option; doing so would concede the point and make it that much easier for Romney’s team to argue that Obama is a failed president.

And so, O’Malley’s comment aside, Democrats have settled on a message similar to what Brad Woodhouse, the DNC’s communications director, said on CNN this morning:

The truth is though is that the American people know. I mean, we were literally a plane that was heading — the trajectory was towards the ground when the president took over. He got the stick, he’s pulled us up out of that decline.

We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Lost 3.5 millions, Americans I know have not forgotten, we lost 3.5 million jobs in the last six months of the Bush administration. We gained 4.5 million jobs over the past two and a half years.
So if you just put those side by side, clearly we’re better off. However, we have a long way to go.

Context isn’t an easy sell in politics, especially since there’s usually little room for collective memory or foresight in mass opinion. But Obama’s argument may be an exception, because polls consistently show that Americans do remember what happened four years ago – who was president when the economy melted down, how severe and terrifying the fallout was, and how impossible the situation that Obama inherited was. There is evidence that memories of George W. Bush have translated into a benefit-of-the-doubt effect for Obama, leaving him in better political shape than in incumbent president in this economic climate should be.

This is why, as Greg Sargent argued Sunday, Romney’s team may be miscalculating in depending so much on economic anxiety to push swing voters into their camp. They have the examples of 1992 and 1980, the last two times incumbent presidents were defeated for reelection, in mind, but those situations were different. The “Are you better off?” question, in fact, was basically invented in ’80, when Ronald Reagan employed it to devastating effect in his debate with Jimmy Carter. The line worked so well because inflation had nearly tripled on Carter’s watch, and unemployment had climbed nearly two points in the 18 months before the election. To the casual voter, the answer to Reagan’s question was simple and obvious. There was no room for context.

It was the same in 1992. The unemployment rate had been around 5 percent when George H.W. Bush took office, but by the summer of his reelection year it had spiked to nearly 8 percent. The fall brought some signs of improvement, but it was too late for the incumbent. It sure seemed like something had happened on Bush’s watch to hurt an economy that had been working pretty well when he came to power.

This is a much different election. The economy was in a freefall that hadn’t been seen since FDR’s days as Obama was taking the oath of office. If the Wall Street meltdown had played out in September 2009, Obama probably wouldn’t be getting much benefit of the doubt now. But it played out in September 2008, at the end of a presidency that the overwhelming majority of voters had decided was a disaster. This doesn’t mean Obama is in the clear; the polls are close, and even if he wins, it will probably be by a narrow margin. But “Are you better off?” doesn’t automatically undermine him the way it did with Carter and Bush 41.

 

By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, September 3, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Selective Memory Loss”: A Fleeting Illusory Democratic Congressional Supermajority

It’s in Republicans’ interest right now to characterize the Democrats’ congressional majority in 2009 and 2010 as enormous. As the argument goes, President Obama could get literally anything he wanted from Congress in his first two years, so Democrats don’t have any excuses.

The stimulus wasn’t big enough? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There’s no comprehensive immigration reform? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. There was only one big jobs bill? Blame Dems; they had supermajorities in both chambers for two years. And so on.

The right continued to push the line over the weekend.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace falsely claimed Democrats had a 60-vote Senate majority for the first 2 years of his presidency.

“For the first 2 years he had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate,” Wallace told LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, making the case that Obama has only himself to blame for his poor economic record.

I realize memories can be short in the political world, and 2010 seems like a long time ago, but it’s unnerving when professionals who presumably keep up with current events are this wrong. Even if various pundits lost track of the specific details, I’d at least expect Fox News hosts to remember Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special-election win in Massachusetts.

Since memories are short, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane, giving Wallace a hand with the recent history he’s forgotten.

In January 2009, there were 56 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucused with Democrats. This combined total of 58 included Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose health was failing and was unable to serve. As a practical matter, in the early months of Obama’s presidency, the Senate Democratic caucus had 57 members on the floor for day-to-day legislating.

In April 2009, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter switched parties. This meant there were 57 Democrats, and two independents who caucused with Democrats, for a caucus of 59. But with Kennedy ailing, there were still “only” 58 Democratic caucus members in the chamber.

In May 2009, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was hospitalized, bringing the number of Senate Dems in the chamber down to 57.

In July 2009, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was finally seated after a lengthy recount/legal fight. At that point, the Democratic caucus reached 60, but two of its members, Kennedy and Byrd, were unavailable for votes.

In August 2009, Kennedy died, and Democratic caucus again stood at 59.

In September 2009, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) filled Kennedy’s vacancy, bringing the caucus back to 60, though Byrd’s health continued to deteriorate.

In January 2010, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) replaced Kirk, bringing the Democratic caucus back to 59 again.

In June 2010, Byrd died, and the Democratic caucus fell to 58, where it stood until the midterms. [Update: Jonathan Bernstein reminds me that Byrd’s replacement was a Dem. He’s right, though this doesn’t change the larger point.]

Wallace believes the Dems’ “filibuster proof majority in the Senate” lasted 24 months. In reality, he’s off by 20 months, undermining the entire thesis pushed so aggressively by Republicans.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2012

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do Republicans Really Want To Compare?”: America Is Definitely Better Off Under Obama

Republicans seem to have hit on a question that has Team Obama fumbling, or at least squirming: Are you better off now than four years ago? Judging by my E-mail inbox yesterday, it’s a question Republicans seem genuinely interested in pursuing. Please do, GOP. It’s a trap.

I say this for two reasons. The first is factual, the second political.

On the matter of facts, when President Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was shedding 800,000 jobs per month. Stop for a second and read that again: 800,000 jobs lost per month. The economy has now added private sector jobs for 29 months running.

Does that mean that things are good? Not at all. The topline unemployment figure has worsened even as the overall economy has improved, and we still haven’t emerged from the jobs crater wrought by the Great Recession. But middling job growth is indisputably better than economic free fall.

More: As Time’s Michael Grunwald points out the economy shrank by an annual rate of 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. At that rate, Grunwald writes, “we would have shed the entire Canadian economy in 2009.” Grunwald, who has written a book on Obama’s stimulus, goes on to make a pretty good thumbnail case about why that jobs plan did in fact work, as well as generally why Obama and his advocates have a lot to be proud of—the post is worth a read.

But it brings me to my second point—why the GOP is walking into a trap if they pursue the “better off” question. Look back at the figures quoted above: 800,000 jobs lost per month; an 8.9 percent annual contraction rate. Is that really the point of comparison to which Mitt Romney and the Republicans want to draw Americans’ attention? Please. Please!
Republicans constantly whine about President Obama pointing to the dreadful circumstances of his ascension to the Oval Office—but now they want to invite the comparison? Really? Really!

I understand that the president and his team have to toe this line carefully—we’re still digging out from George W. Bush’s recession. But Jon Favreau and the presidential speechwriting staff, are you paying attention? If the GOP wants to ask whether the country is better off than it was four years ago, then the answer is a no-brainer yes, and I can’t think of a better person or place to give that answer than Barack Obama on Thursday night.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, Washington Whispers, September 3, 2012

 

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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