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“The Public Be Damned”: GOP Senators Fear A Debate On Gun Legislation

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address last month, he urged lawmakers to simply give a bill a fair hearing. Referencing parents of Newtown victims, the president said, “They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”

And right now, Senate Republicans’ top goal on gun legislation seems to be making sure that doesn’t happen.

Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah argued today that he intends to block a floor debate on gun legislation in order to ensure a “full debate.” I don’t mean to be picky, but that’s gibberish — one does not guarantee a debate by blocking a debate.

Nevertheless, Lee’s efforts are drawing more support from the far-right. We talked the other day about a trio of conservative Republican senators — Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz — who’ve vowed to filibuster any legislation that changes any gun laws in any way. Their little group is apparently growing.

Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla. will reportedly sign the letter from Sens. Mike Lee R-Utah, Rand Paul R-Ky., and Ted Cruz R-Texas to require 60 votes to bring the Senate gun control bill to the Senate floor.

“Sens Rubio and Inhofe have signed the Lee-Paul-Cruz letter stating they will object to bringing new gun legislation to the floor,” announced Lee’s press secretary on Twitter earlier this afternoon.

Soon after, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) followed suit.

Just so we’re clear, what these five senators are saying is they intend to filibuster the motion to proceed on any gun bill. In other words, they’re not only going to try to prevent legislation from passing, they also intend to block any bill related to gun violence from even being debated on the Senate floor.

I’m not sure what they’re so afraid of.

Why not welcome the debate? Why try to prevent both sides from presenting their views and voting on a proposal?

From the far-right’s perspective, the worst case scenario is easy to imagine: the Senate might pass a bill that Republicans and the NRA don’t like. But even under these circumstances, the legislation would go to the Republican-led House, where progressive legislation has no credible chance of success.

So why go to so much effort to block a Senate debate?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Virginia Is The New Florida”: New Voter Suppression Efforts Prove The Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed

In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states. Ultimately, twenty-five laws and two executive actions were passed in nineteen states following the 2010 election to make it harder to vote. In many cases, these laws backfired on their Republican sponsors. The courts blocked ten of them, and young and minority voters—the prime target of the restrictions—formed a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008.

Despite the GOP’s avowal to reach out to new constituencies following the 2012 election, Republican state legislators have continued to support new voting restrictions in 2013. According to a report by Project Vote, fifty-five new voting restrictions have been introduced in thirty states so far this year. “The 2013 legislative season has once again brought an onslaught of bills to restrict access to the ballot, including proposals to undercut important election laws that have recently opened the electorate to more voters,” writes Erin Ferns Lee. These measures include “strict photo ID policies…voter registration restrictions; voter purges; [felon] disenfranchisement; and policies to cut back or revoke voting laws that have made voting more convenient.”

Here’s the breakdown of where such laws have been introduced.

Mandating a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot: Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Washington, Wyoming

Restricting voter registration drives: Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

Banning election-day voter registration: California, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska

Requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote: Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia

Purging the voter rolls: Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia

Reducing early voting: Arizona, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin

Disenfranchising ex-felons: Virginia.

(On the plus side, thirty states have also introduced measures to make voting easier by adopting online voter registration, election-day registration, expanded early voting and the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.)

Most of these measures are still pending before state legislatures, but Virginia, which has gubernatorial and legislative elections this year, is leading the way in enacting new voting restrictions. On January 21, 2013, as Virginia State Senator Henry Marsh, a longtime civil rights activist, attended President Obama’s second inauguration on Martin Luther King Day, the deadlocked Virginia Senate took advantage of Marsh’s absence to pass a new redistricting map that reduced Democratic seats by diluting black voting strength in at least eight districts. The measure was ultimately defeated in the Virginia House, but the move set the tone on voting rights for the legislative session.

On Tuesday morning, as the nation followed the debate over Proposition 8 at the Supreme Court, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a strict voter ID bill. In the last election, Virginians could vote by showing a number of different IDs, including a utility bill, a Social Security card or, this being the South, a concealed handgun permit. The new law restricts the forms of acceptable ID to a driver’s license, a passport, a state-issued photo ID card, a student ID with a photo on it or an employee photo ID. The Commonwealth Institute, a progressive research group, estimates that 869,000 registered voters in Virginia may lack these forms of photo ID, and says the new law will cost the state anywhere from $7 to $21 million to implement.

McDonnell’s spokesman called the photo ID law “a reasonable effort to protect the sanctity of our democratic process.” Yet the measure will likely only exacerbate the existing problems in Virginia’s election system, according to voting rights experts. In the last election, Virginia voters waited up to seven hours to cast a ballot. “Long lines across the state were a result of insufficient resources, poor allocation of resources that did exist, and frequent breakdowns of aging voting equipment,” according to a post-election report by the Election Protection coalition.

Moreover, study after study has shown that voter ID laws disproportionately impact young and minority voters. Not only are these constituencies less likely to have photo ID, but even in states without ID laws, black and Hispanic youth were significantly more likely than whites to be asked to show ID. According to a Politico write-up of a new report by political scientists at the University of Chicago and Washington University, “17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth said their lack of adequate ID kept them from voting, compared with just 4.7 percent of white youth.” Mamie Locke, chairman of the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus, called the ID law “a continuation of attempts by Republicans to suppress the vote of individuals who are not likely to support their right wing agenda.”

Nor is voter fraud a rampant problem in Virginia, as supporters of the voter ID law suggest. There have been only thirty-five cases of alleged election fraud since 2000 in the state, according to an exhaustive survey by News21, and only five cases led to plea deals or convictions. Ironically, the one major case of election fraud in the state last year concerned a GOP firm charged with dumping voter registration forms.

Virginia must receive approval for its election change from the federal government under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The new voting restrictions enacted in Virginia and introduced elsewhere across the country show why Section 5 is still very much needed. If anything, the statute should be expanded in light of contemporary voter suppression efforts, not eliminated.

Virginia is quickly becoming the new Florida when it comes to electoral dysfunction. Like Florida, Virginia also passed new laws this year to restrict voter registration drives and to purge the voter rolls of alleged non-citizen voters. In Florida, such measures forced groups like the League of Women Voters to halt voter registration efforts and wrongly labeled thousands of eligible voters as non-citizens. All of this is happening, coincidentally, in a crucial election year for the Commonwealth.

The continued push to restrict the right to vote reveals the extent to which conservative power remains deeply embedded in the states, thanks to the 2010 election and subsequent aggressive gerrymandering by GOP state legislatures to protect their majorities. To combat this imbalance, Howard Dean’s group Democracy For America is launching a new effort to flip state legislatures from red to blue. The group will start, fittingly, in Virginia this year, and then expand to Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2014. DFA plans to spend $750,000 targeting five seats in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013. Jamelle Bouie explains why this is savvy politics:

It’s hard to overstate how smart a way this is for liberal groups to invest their time and money. Virginia, in fact, is a great case study for why it’s key for Democrats to make gains on the state level. Democrats control both Senate seats in the state, and it was key to Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. Despite this, Republicans control all three statewide offices (governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general), the House of Delegates, and have the tie breaking vote in the state senate. The result? Republicans have been able to push a strong conservative agenda in the state.

With Congress deadlocked, the states are where the action is. It’s good that people are finally taking notice, especially as state politics continue to shift further to the right in many places.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, March 28, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nasty, Petty, And Ill-Informed”: Ben Carson’s Johns Hopkins Colleague Responds To His Marriage Equality Attack

The co-director of Johns Hopkins University’s sexuality studies program is speaking out against his colleague Dr. Ben Carson’s recent comments comparing supporters of marriage equality to members of NAMBLA and practitioners of bestiality.

“I don’t think most people at Hopkins think what he says on this subject matter,” Professor Todd Shepard, co-director of the university’s Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, said in a statement to Media Matters. “They make him look nasty, petty, and ill-informed. It doesn’t tell us anything about his amazing abilities as a surgeon. It does remind us, however, that those abilities do not mean we should listen to what he says in any other domain.”

During a March 26 appearance on Fox News, Carson said, “Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition.”

“So, it’s not something against gays,” added the Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgery professor, who has recently become a sensation among the conservative media. “It’s against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society. It has significant ramifications.”

Business Insider described Carson’s appearance as a “trainwreck of an interview,” while Slate’s David Weigel wrote that the professor, who has been heavily promoted by Fox News in recent months and is reportedly seeking to host a television show after he retires from Johns Hopkins later this year, “took a sharp turn into Gaffe City.” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote that Fox had “created a climate” for Carson’s “partisan, polarizing and possibly hurtful language.”

Shepard, who teaches French history as well as gender and sexuality studies, compared Carson to the French intellectuals who supported the prosecution of Alfred Dreyfus at the turn of the 20th century.

“I admire Dr. Carson as a neurosurgeon, but his intervention into this debate proves that, like those who defended the Army and the Church against Dreyfus, he prefers to defend the ways things have been rather than individual rights and to deny that informed and rational debate is a better basis for making decisions than received wisdom,” said Shepard. “I doubt that he would apply these lessons to his professional life. In this case, where he knows nothing more than hearsay, the good doctor is wrong about the history.”

Shepard concluded that these “reactionary and rancid claims do remind us of how far the general discussion has advanced beyond Dr. Carson and his far-right audience.”

The full statement from Shepard:

The term intellectual emerged around the late-19th-century Dreyfus Affair, when writers, artists, and academics spoke out in the name of impartial justice and individual rights in defense of a man unjustly condemned because he was a Jew, while others insisted that a defense of the established order (notably the Church) required supporting the conviction. Intellectuals, then, are individuals who use their expertise in one esteemed area of human endeavor, science, for example, to intervene in the public debate on topics outside of their specific expertise.

I admire Dr. Carson as a neurosurgeon, but his intervention into this debate proves that, like those who defended the Army and the Church against Dreyfus, he prefers to defend the ways things have been rather than individual rights and to deny that informed and rational debate is a better basis for making decisions than received wisdom. I doubt that he would apply these lessons to his professional life. In this case, where he knows nothing more than hearsay, the good doctor is wrong about the history.

Legal marriage is defined by laws made by human beings, not by his definition of what his god decreed. He should check out the Constitution on this matter. Who can get married has been widely debated across different cultures and time periods. It’s always been open to discussion and redefinition. That’s how law-making works.  Age of consent laws in this country, for example, are much more restrictive now than they were in the 19th century. Rape and sexual abuse were far more widely accepted. Feminists, gay rights groups, and others all helped make that change (ask the Catholic Church). He also is insulting, offhand, and ill-informed in the comparison he makes to bestiality, Nambla, etc. Half-baked history and insults, then, are where he wants to stake his tent.

I don’t think most people at Hopkins think what he says on this subject matter. They make him look nasty, petty, and ill-informed. It doesn’t tell us anything about his amazing abilities as a surgeon. It does remind us, however, that those abilities do not mean we should listen to what he says in any other domain. One of the nice things about the current debate is that it’s not just LGBT people who are concerned. Americans are involved in this discussion. The vast majority of Americans are open to judging this question of equal rights to marry on the basis of the evidence, in a process of open discussion. As they’ve seen the evidence, most have moved away from the hysterical and de-humanizing arguments to which Dr. Carson still clings. He is welcome to put them out there. I and others can now judge him on those statements. It makes him look bad. But such reactionary and rancid claims do remind us of how far the general discussion has advanced beyond Dr. Carson and his far-right audience.


By: Matt Gertz, Media Matters, March 28, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shame On Us”: If Newtown Is Forgotten, Congress Will Forever Have Blood On Its Hands

Shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, it was fairly common to hear skepticism about President Obama’s willingness to follow through when it came to proposals to reduce gun violence. Sure, the argument went, Obama was saying the right things in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, but would he stick with the issue?

At this point, I think the answer seems fairly plain. About 100 days after the Newtown shootings, the president hosted another event in the White House today, joined by parents and law-enforcement officials, demanding real reforms.

For those who can’t watch clips online, this portion struck me as especially significant:

“There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get this done. But the reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done. And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject, or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all of our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, their assumption is that people will just forget about it.

“I read an article in the news just the other day wondering ‘Has Washington Missed Its Opportunity?’ because as time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forgetting. Let me tell you, the people here, they don’t forget. Grace’s Dad’s not forgetting. Hadiya’s Mom hasn’t forgotten. The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we’ve moved onto other things? That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are.

“And I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than 100 days ago, that happened. And the entire country was shocked. And the entire country pledged that we would do something about it and this time it would be different. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

We don’t yet know whether Congress will even consider popular measures that enjoy overwhelming public support, but it appears the White House’s commitment has not changed.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Awful Crown Of Thorns”: Oppressed Christians And Second-Class Citizenship

With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they’re being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they’re starting to feel like “second-class citizens.” Here’s CBN’s David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here’s Red State’s Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom (“Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.”). Here’s Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun (“it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage”). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are … strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It’s awful, I tell ya.

The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.

Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he’s asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It’s no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that’s supposed to make it a fundamental right.

I’m more than happy to admit that in certain circles, it’s more acceptable to be gay than to be an evangelical Christian. That’s what Chief Justice Roberts was getting at when he noted during the oral arguments about DOMA that “political figures are falling all over themselves” to endorse gay marriage, and thus gay people don’t qualify as a disfavored minority. But what we’re talking about here isn’t attendance at fashionable Upper West Side parties, it’s discrimination under the law. That’s what makes you a second-class citizen. It’s what gay people live with now, and it’s something that is never, ever going to happen to Christians, no matter how bad some of them may feel when people tell them they’re wrong.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 27, 2013

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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