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“Echos Of The Past”: Civil Rights Assaulted By Supreme Court

Last week was bittersweet for the cause of human dignity.

On one hand, the Supreme Court gave us reason for applause, striking down barriers against the full citizenship of gay men and lesbians. On the other, it gave us reason for dread, gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 5-4 decision was stunning and despicable, but not unexpected. The country has been moving in this direction for years.

The act is sometimes called the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement, but it was even more than that: the most important piece of legislation in the cause of African-American freedom since Reconstruction. And in shredding it, the court commits its gravest crime against that freedom since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

That decision ratified segregation, capping a 30-year campaign by conservative Southern Democrats to overturn the results of the Civil War. Given that the Voting Rights Act now lies in tatters even as Republicans embrace Voter ID schemes to suppress the black vote, given that GOP star Rand Paul has questioned the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one has to wonder if the results of the Civil Rights Movement do not face a similar fate.

Or, as Georgia Rep. John Lewis put it when I spoke with him Monday, “Can history repeat itself?”

Lewis was the great hero of the battle for voting rights, a then-25-year-old activist who had his skull broken by Alabama state troopers on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL while leading a march against the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, morals tests, economic intimidation, clubs, guns and bombs to deny black people the ballot. The law he helped enact required states and counties with histories of voting discrimination to seek federal approval before changing their voting procedures. (Those that behaved themselves for a decade could be released from that requirement.)

The court struck down the formula the law uses to determine where discrimination lives (and therefore, which jurisdictions should be covered), saying the dates are too old to be reliable. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted in writing for the majority, the country has changed dramatically since that era. African-American electoral participation is at levels undreamt of in 1965.

And so it is. Because. The Act. Worked.

Using that success as an excuse to cripple it, noted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent, is like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Indeed, had the nation not changed dramatically since 1965, would that not have been cited as evidence of the Act’s failure? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, then: The Voting Rights Act never had a chance.

This court, said Lewis, “plunged a dagger in the heart” of the freedom movement. Nor is it lost on him that the majority which struck down this bedrock of black freedom included a black jurist: Clarence Thomas. “The brother on the court,” said Lewis, “I think he’s lost his way.”

So what now? Lewis says we must push Congress for legislation to “put teeth back in the Voting Rights Act.” Given that this Congress is notorious for its adamantine uselessness, that seems farfetched, but Lewis insists bipartisan discussion is already under way.

Fine. Let us demand that bickering, dysfunctional body do what is needed. But let us — African-Americans and all believers in freedom — also serve notice that, whatever lawmakers do, we will not stand placidly by as history repeats and citizenship is repealed, but that we will energetically resist by every moral means.

Saying that, I hear the ghostly echo of those who, once upon a generation, marched into Southern jails, singing “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” It is an ancient song of defiance that feels freshly — sadly — relevant to our times.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, July 3, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“White Sale”: The “Missing White Voter”

I’ve been writing about this for the last week in the context of Sean Trende’s analysis of ethnic and racial voting data. But MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin has an excellent summary of the gradual but steady conversion of conservative gabbers from the belief that securing a higher share of the Latino vote is an ontological necessity for the GOP to the very, very different conviction that the GOP’s salvation lies in an enhanced appeal to the same white voters that already compose nearly all of its “base.”

After November’s stunning loss, an array of influential Republicans argued that immigration reform was the party’s best chance to claim Latino voters before they become permanent Democrats. But in a mere eight months, a counter-narrative has taken hold in conservative circles, nurtured by a shrewd group of anti-immigration lobbyists and Tea Party enthusiasts. The new argument sees immigration reform at best as a divisive distraction from the GOP’s real problem of countering “white flight” from the polls. At worst, they view it as an electoral apocalypse, a seventh seal behind which lies an unbroken line of future Democratic presidents.

Sarlin sees this “counter-narrative” largely as a backlash against “Republican establishment” voices telling conservatives something they really, really didn’t want to hear (it’s no accident that Rush Limbaugh was among the first and most consistent in rejecting the Latino Imperative proposition). But he notes that some influential figures, particularly on Fox News, have switched from one theory to another as conservative opposition to immigration reform has intensified:

[T]he anti-immigration argument appears to be gaining converts fast. On election night, Fox News anchor Brit Hume called the “demographic” threat posed by Latino voters “absolutely real” and suggested Mitt Romney’s “hardline position on immigration” may be to blame for election losses. On Monday, Hume declared that argument “baloney.” The Hispanic vote, he said, “is not nearly as important, still, as the white vote.”

Sean Hannity, a reliable bellwether on the right, has been on a similar journey since the fall. He announced the day after President Obama’s re-election that he had “evolved” on immigration reform and now supported a “path to citizenship” in order to improve relations with Hispanic voters. Hannity has now flipped hard against the Senate’s bill. “Not only do I doubt the current legislation will solve the immigration problem,” he wrote in a June column, “but it also won’t help the GOP in future elections.”

Hannity and Hume didn’t arrive at their latest destination by accident. They’re just the latest figures on the right to embrace the compelling new message that’s whipping Republicans against immigration reform while still promising a better tomorrow for the GOP’s presidential candidates.

Sarlin notes the particular role played by the highly-reputed number-cruncher Sean Trende and the influential conservative journalist Byron York (who unlike Trende has been crusading against the Gang of Eight immigration bill) in making this inherently attractive-to-conservatives argument (I’ve called it a bottomless crack pipe for the Right) respectable. Their work is particularly popular, unfortunately, among those who deliberately ignore what Trende and York say about the kind of white voters who “went missing” in 2012 and the unconventional things Republicans need to do to appeal to them:

York and Trende have some nuanced ideas about how the GOP can accomplish what Romney failed to do, many of which involve tacking left on the economy. But to the talk radio right, the main takeaway is that there are several million angry white votes ripe for the taking if the party can swing even more to the right.

White voters stayed home, Limbaugh said in May, because “they didn’t think the Republican Party was conservative enough….”

“Their idea seems to be gaining currency,” Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, told MSNBC. “Right after the election most of the conservative commentariat said they had to do something to get right with Latino voters. Now there seems to be this bizarre conversation that could only happen in the conservative bubble about how Romney didn’t win because he didn’t mobilize enough white voters.”

Underlying these claims is a belief that Romney lost because he was a blue-blooded moderate who failed to connect to conservative white voters on a visceral level. Nominate an American bad-ass in 2016 and those missing whites will reappear in a hurry.

Bingo. It’s more or less the same rationalization conservatives offered for losing in 2008, as well: a nominee too moderate for the “conservative majority” who was laboring under the false premise that his past support for comprehensive immigration reform would win him Latino support.

The bottom line here is that selling conservatives on a particularly self-serving version of the “missing white voter” theory is the easiest sale imaginable, and they are accordingly buying it like hot cakes. That’s bad news for those who favor immigration reform, and even worse news for those who dream of a political environment in which racial and ethnic conflict is not constantly lurking in the background.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 2, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Just Don’t Care”: New Texas Abortion Law Could Be Worst Yet For Poor Women

Some 5,000 orange-clad men and women invaded the Texas capitol in Austin on Monday in an emotional and enthusiastic show of support for reproductive rights. They faced off with Republican lawmakers still resolved to pass SB 5, the very bill limiting abortion access that was defeated last week after Senator Wendy Davis’s 11-hour filibuster. Yesterday, nearly 2,000 people showed up to testify against the bill as it was considered by the Texas House Affairs Committee, which approved it 8-3.

This latest effort to roll back women’s rights in Texas has met fierce opposition and resolve from Texans and other Americans who recognize the value of women’s health care. “When you silence one of us, you give voice to the millions who will continue to demand our lives, our choices, our independence,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, reminded us at Monday’s rally.

It has also highlighted the deep gulf between the lived experiences of women in Texas, particularly low-income women, and lawmakers who have inserted themselves into decisions that should only be made by women and their physicians.

Monday’s protest took place as Texas lawmakers convened for a second special session called by Governor Rick Perry. The bill they’re considering would make abortion after 20 weeks illegal, impose onerous requirements on abortion providers, and demand that all clinics meet costly and burdensome building requirements. If passed, 37 of the state’s 42 abortion providers will be forced to close their doors. This despite the fact that 79 percent of Texans believe abortion should be available to a woman under varying circumstances, while only 16 percent believe abortion should never be permitted.

This is just the latest in a seemingly never-ending assault on Texas women. In 2011, lawmakers decimated the Texas family planning program with a two-thirds budget cut that closed nearly 60 family planning clinics across the state and left almost 150,000 women without care.  Soon after, they also barred Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics defined as “abortion affiliates” from the Women’s Health Program (WHP), a state Medicaid program on which thousands of poor women rely. Governor Perry insisted that former WHP patients could find new providers and claimed there were plenty to bridge the gap, but that simply is not the case. Clinics across Texas have reported a sharp drop in patients, and guess that former WHP clients are receiving no care at all.

To suggest so cavalierly that women simply find new providers is evidence that Republican lawmakers simply don’t understand – or don’t care about – the socioeconomic realities that shape women’s lives. Otherwise, they would recognize the absurdity of forcing women to navigate an increasingly complex health system to find new providers and then traverse hundreds of miles to receive basic care and services. This is a stark illustration of the privilege gap that exists between policymakers and the people they represent.

After it became clear that the warnings of public health experts – who testified that such policies would impose a heavy economic toll on the state, result in negative health outcomes, and increase the demand for abortion – were becoming reality, lawmakers last month restored family planning funding to the 2014 budget. While this is certainly good news, returning to pre-2011 funding levels still leaves nearly 700,000 women without access to care and so far has enabled only three of the nearly 60 shuttered clinics to re-open. And even before the 2011 budget cuts, only one-third of the state’s one million women in need of family planning services received them through the state program. A provider shortage will persist for the foreseeable future; it is no easy task to reopen a clinic once it has shuttered its facility, released its staff, sold all its equipment, and sent its patients’ files elsewhere.

If the current legislation were to pass, nearly all the state’s abortion providers would be forced to close. The majority of those are clinics that not only offer abortion services, but also provide contraception, STD testing, and cancer screenings for poor women. Many of those clinics are located in areas that are already bearing the brunt of family planning clinic closures (see map below). The few clinics that would remain open in Texas are located in urban areas, leaving women in rural Texas with even fewer health care options than they currently have.

What are women—especially poor women—to do? Women in Texas already face heavier burdens than women in many other states. Texas has one of the nation’s highest teen birth rates and percentages of women living in poverty. It has a lower percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester than any other state. It also has the highest percentage of uninsured children in the nation and provides the lowest monthly benefit for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) recipients (an average of $26.86 compared to the national average of $41.52). And soon the majority of women may not have access to abortion care at any stage of their pregnancy.

Governor Perry’s policies have marginalized women who already bear the heavy weight of so many inequities. His latest efforts will only marginalize them further.

This anti-abortion legislation will not prevent women from getting abortions. It will simply push them across the border and into unsafe facilities like those operated by Kermit Gosnell. Its passage will add to the fury that has escalated over the past three years as women have lost access to breast exams, birth control, and abortion services while being told it is for their own good. These lawmakers fail to understand that the full range of reproductive health services, including the ability to access an abortion, is absolutely central to women’s ability to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives – an ability that is itself essential to the strength of families, communities, states, and our nation.

On Monday, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards reminded the crowd in Austin of the old adage that you can measure a country by how well it treats its women. The same is true for Texas.  “We settled the prairie. We built this state. We raised our families,” said the ever-feisty daughter of former Texas governor and progressive icon Ann Richards. “We survived hurricanes and tornadoes, and we will survive the Texas legislature, too.”

 

By: Andrea Flynn, The National Memo, July 3, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | War On Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jelly Belly Flag Wavers”: Remembering Why The Right Doesn’t Own The Stars and Stripes

Like many men who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my late father never boasted about his years in uniform. A patriot to his core, he nevertheless despised what he called the “jelly-bellied flag flappers.” But in the decade or so before he passed away, he began to sport a small, eagle-shaped pin on his lapel, known as a “ruptured duck.” Displaying the mark of his military service said that this lifelong liberal loved his country as much as any conservative — and had proved it.

Are such gestures still necessary today? For decades right-wingers have sought to establish a near-monopoly on patriotic expression, all too often with the dumb collusion of some of its adversaries on the left. But on July 4, when we celebrate the nation’s revolutionary founding, I always find myself pondering just how fraudulent and full of irony this right-wing tactic is. It is only our collective ignorance of our own history that permits conservatives to assert their exclusive franchise on the flag, the Declaration of Independence, and the whole panoply of national symbols, without provoking brutal mockery.

But we need not play their style of politics to argue that the left is equally entitled to a share of America’s heritage — indeed, in the light of history, perhaps more entitled than its rivals. So let’s begin, in honor of the holiday, at the official beginning.

Although “right” and “left” didn’t define political combat at that time on these shores, there isn’t much doubt that behind the American Revolution, and in particular the Declaration of Independence, was not only a colonial elite but a cabal of left-wing radicals as well.

What other description would have fitted such figures as Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, who declared their contempt for monarchy and aristocracy? Their wealthier, more cautious colleagues in the Continental Congress regarded Adams as a reckless adventurer “of bankrupt fortune,” and Paine as a rabble-rousing scribbler. Popular democracy was itself a wildly radical doctrine in the colonial era, tamed in the writing of the Constitution by the new nation’s land-owning elites and slaveholders.

The right-wingers of the Revolutionary era were Tories — colonists who remained loyal to the British crown, fearful of change and, in their assistance to the occupying army of George III, the precise opposite of patriots. Only from the perspective of two centuries of ideological shift can the republican faith of the Founding Fathers be described as “conservative.”

The Civil War, too, was a struggle between left and right, between patriots and … well, in those days the Confederate leaders were deemed traitors (an epithet now usually avoided out of a decent concern for Southern sensibilities). Academics will argue forever about that war’s underlying economic and social causes, but it was the contemporary left that sought to abolish slavery and preserve the Union, while the right fought to preserve slavery and dissolve the Union. Today, reverence for the Confederacy remains the emotional province of extremely right-wing Southern politicians and intellectuals (as well as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads, and not a few members of the Tea Party). These disreputable figures denigrate Lincoln, our greatest president, and wax nostalgic for the plantation culture.

At the risk of offending every furious diehard who still waves the Stars and Bars, it is fair to wonder what, exactly, is patriotic about that?

Yet another inglorious episode in the annals of conservatism preceded the global war against fascism. The so-called America First movement that opposed U.S. intervention against Hitler camouflaged itself with red, white and blue but proved to be a haven for foreign agents who were plotting against the United States. While Communists and some other radicals also initially opposed American entry into World War II for their own reasons, the broad-based left of the New Deal coalition understood the Axis threat very early. Most conservatives honorably joined the war effort after Pearl Harbor, but more than a few on the right continued to promote defeatism and appeasement even then. And with all due respect to neoconservatives and other late-arriving right-wingers, the historical roots of postwar conservatism — the “Old Right” of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan, the Buckleys and the Kochs — can be traced to those prewar sympathizers of the Axis.

The criminal excesses of the Cold War in Vietnam and elsewhere, so eagerly indulged by the right to this day, alienated many Americans on the left from their country for a time. Conservatives seized the opportunity presented by flag-burning protests and other adolescent displays to marginalize their ideological opponents as un-American, although only a tiny minority dove off that deep end. But how many conservatives like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh beat the Vietnam draft while liberals like John Kerry, Al Gore, and Wesley Clark all served? And who truly protected this country’s best interests back then — the politicians who dispatched 50,000 young Americans to their deaths in the rice paddies, or those who dissented?

It is a lesson we didn’t learn in time to save us from another debacle in Iraq, when dissent was again vilified – and again proved more sane and patriotic than the bloodlust of the chicken-hawks.

Yet somehow our wingers always manage to wrap themselves in Old Glory, as if it belongs to them alone. But on this holiday, and every day, it assuredly does not.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, July 2, 2013

July 4, 2013 Posted by | Independence Day | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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