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“By Any Other Name, It’s Still A Name”: Why Veto Messiah But Not Moon Unit Or Moses?

It’s not exactly in the Constitution, but it is a parent’s inalienable right to have questionable taste and embarrass their children. And that is why it’s disturbing that a judge in Tennessee would tell a parent what she can and cannot name her son.

OK, so the mother wanted to name the kid “Messiah.” It’s sort of an elegant name, actually, if it didn’t mean anything to a lot of people. And that’s what troubled Tennessee Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, who did not bear the child or agree to raise the child, but who has nonetheless decided it’s her place to veto the name. To which one can only respond, “oh, for God’s sake.”

The judge told WBIR TV:

The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person. And that one person is Jesus Christ.

So it’s about titles, is it? Then how did singer Michael Jackson get away with naming his kid “Prince Michael?” You could make a stronger argument that the actual name “Jesus Christ” is pushing the envelope. But even then, “Jesus” is a popular name among Spanish-speaking people, many of whom are devoted Catholics.

So what’s the problem, again? Ballew went on, saying, “It could put him at odds with a lot of people. And at this point, he has had no choice in what his name is.”

Well, that’s another question. Silly names that feed the juvenile humor or self-aggrandizement of the parents? Yes, let’s then get rid of Moon Unit Zappa, Gwyneth Paltrow’s kid, Apple, and all those names by parents who think it’s just adorable to name their kids things like “Candy Bar” and “Claire Voyant.”

It’s simply not up to a judge to rename a child, especially when the alleged offense is against a select group of people with a particular view towards religion. The name “Messiah” might mean a lot to some people, but it means basically nothing to a whole group of other people. It’s not as though the name is, on its face, obscene. Though it might be humorous to go on TV and have one’s own name bleeped out when you’re introduced.

The judge pledges to protect and respect religion, but she’s really just imposing her own beliefs on everyone else, and in a way that is intensely personal. And if it’s really religious names that get her into a lather, she ought to have a long chat with Paltrow. The actress’s second child is named “Moses,” after all.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Disenfranchising The Electorate”: The Questions That Will Decide The Fate Of Voting Rights In North Carolina

Three lawsuits have been filed challenging North Carolina’s new voter suppression law, which I called the worst in the nation and Rick Hasen says is the most restrictive since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Now comes the question: Will the challenges be successful? Here are three factors that will decide the outcome in North Carolina and the future of the VRA and voting rights more broadly.

1. Can Section 2 replace Section 5 of the VRA?

Conservatives opposed to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act strenuously made the argument before and after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder that Section 2 was an adequate replacement for Section 5, which forced states with the worst history of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government. “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in Section 2,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority. Testifying before the House, Hans van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation called Section 2 “the heart of the VRA” and said “there’s no reason for Congress to take any action” to resurrect Section 5 with a new coverage map.

This is a clever and disingenuous marketing job. In truth, Section 2 has been used almost exclusively to protect majority-minority districts during redistricting and has been narrowed in recent years by the Supreme Court, most recently in Bartlett v. Strickland in 2009. The Department of Justice hasn’t filed a Section 2 lawsuit since 2009 and no major voting restrictions were blocked under Section 2 during the last election. It’s difficult to challenge voting changes before they go into effect under Section 2 and the cases often take years and millions of dollars to defend. “This is one of the fixes we need from Congress,” says Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “We need some better, clearer standards for Section 2. The law is not well-developed.” Moreover, the more cases that are filed under Section 2, the more likely it is that anti-VRA conservatives will challenge its constitutionality.

Under Section 5, the burden would have been on North Carolina to prove that its voting changes were not discriminatory. Given the overwhelming facts of disparate racial impact in the law, DOJ or the courts would have almost certainly blocked its implementation. The strong evidence of racial discrimination in this case shows the urgent need for Congress to resurrect Section 5.

The outcome under Section 2 “will depend on a lot of discretionary factors instead of a straightforward law, which is why Congress needs to update the VRA,” says Overton. “It’s uncharted territory, so no one really knows what will happen,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project. The federal lawsuits have been assigned to Judge Thomas Schroeder of the Middle District of North Carolina, a George W. Bush appointee regarded as an establishment Republican.

2. Did North Carolina Republicans intentionally discriminate against minority voters?

Lawsuits brought by the North Carolina NAACP and the ACLU ask that North Carolina be covered under Section 3 of the VRA, so that they must seek federal approval of their voting changes for a period of time, based on a “preponderance of evidence” of intentional discrimination. DOJ recently asked a court to do this with Texas. “The General Assembly has discriminated against African Americans and other voters of color in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus coverage under Section 3(c) is mandated under the Voting Rights Act,” the ACLU plaintiffs in North Carolina write.

The lawsuits argue that clear evidence of the law’s discriminatory burden on African-Americans—who were disproportionately more likely to lack ID and to use early voting and same-day voter registration, for example—was presented during the legislative debate and that Republican sponsors of the bill did nothing to alter the legislation. “After Shelby County v. Holder, the courts are going to have to take these intent claims seriously,” says Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which filed suit on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP.

But North Carolina could argue, like Texas, that its law was simply aimed at disenfranchising Democrats, not minorities, and thus is not intentionally discriminatory. Proving intentional discrimination in court is very difficult. One change Congress could easily make is for Section 3 to cover voting changes that have a discriminatory impact, not intent. Under that standard, North Carolina would almost certainly have to clear its voting changes with the feds for a period of time.

3. Will voter suppression efforts produce an electoral backlash among minority voters?

It’s almost considered a truism today that laws meant to disenfranchise minority voters will motivate more minority voters to cast a ballot in order to defend their most sacred right, since that’s what happened in 2012. But the backlash against voter suppression in the last election was the result of a number of unique factors: an extremely well-organized and well-funded Obama campaign, a poorly run Romney campaign that did almost no outreach to minority voters and the fact that many of the new voting restrictions were blocked or repealed in key battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

We shouldn’t assume that such a backlash will become the new normal, especially as more onerous laws are put on the books in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. “The 2012 election was an anomaly, because of the candidate and campaign at the top of the ticket,” says Overton. “In primaries, off-year elections, midterms, the resources aren’t there to mobilize people to the polls.” And even if the impact of a new voting restriction is ultimately tempered or overcome, that doesn’t make attempts to restrict the right to vote any less immoral. “I hope there is a backlash,” says Hair. “I hope everyone is so angry in North Carolina about efforts to take away their right to vote that they redouble their efforts. But you shouldn’t have to redouble your efforts in order to vote.”

That said, North Carolina is one of the states where you could potentially see a higher turnout as a result of the legislature’s draconian overreach. First off, the Republican legislature is deeply unpopular, with a 20 percent approval rating, and so is the new voting bill, with 39 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving. Seventy percent of moderates and 72 percent of African-Americans dislike the legislation. Second, the well-organized Moral Monday coalition has been mobilizing people against the legislature’s actions for months and is strongly positioned to get a lot of people to the polls. Third, the litigation against the law will keep this story in the news and make more people aware of its onerous details. Fourth, there is a competitive Senate race in North Carolina that could decide the balance of power nationally, with Democrat Kay Hagan likely facing North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who was named “legislator of the year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2011 and is closely tied to all of the unpopular legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Republicans have done everything possible, through aggressive racial gerrymandering and onerous new voting restrictions, to protect their majorities in 2014 and beyond. In so doing, they’ve alienated a large segment of the electorate. The next election will be a good test case of the extent to which power-hungry politicians can successfully manipulate the democratic process in order to thwart the will of the people.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Adolescent Nihilism”: The GOP’s True Believers Risk Nothing By Threatening Economic Catastrophe

So what’s it going to be for GOP hotheads in Congress this fall?

A soul-satisfying episode of adolescent nihilism culminating in a government shutdown and yet another debt/default scare? Or an abject capitulation to political (and fiscal) reality and an acceptance of the Republican Party’s role as the loyal opposition?

As I write, there’s just no telling. It’s partly a contest between the GOP’s electronic infotainment/Tea Party wing and the party establishment. Talk-radio shouters and cable TV entrepreneurs thrive on melodrama, and a substantial proportion of the Tea Party base follows excitedly along. Defund Obamacare! Shut it down! To those of us of a certain age, this has a ring of nostalgia, like Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 vow to levitate the Pentagon. I don’t know what they’re smoking down at RNC headquarters, but on CNN’s State of the Union, party chairman Reince Priebus made a lame attempt to blame President Obama.

“I think all Republicans are unified on one thing and that is defunding, delaying, getting rid of, eliminating Obamacare,” Priebus said. “So we have total unanimity on that issue and the question is what are the tactics?…So Mr. President, if you want to shut the government down because you want to continue to fund this monstrosity…then go ahead.”

Nice try. No cigar.

Having wasted countless hours on 40 — count ’em, 40 — votes to defund Obamacare, you’d think House Republicans might be getting the message. Their scheme’s DOA in the Senate, and even if it weren’t, the White House holds veto power. The GOP’s last constitutional chance to prevent 30 million Americans from buying affordable health insurance coverage expired with Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. End of story.

True, rising Republican celebrities like Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and rising star Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are breathing smoke and fire. However, it’s also true that none of these worthies hold leadership positions. Until very recently nobody knew who they were. They risk nothing by enrolling in a purely symbolic resistance.

Quite the opposite: True Believers in utopian right-wing crusades evaluate politicians according to their fervor, not their coherence. Did Ronald Reagan ever pay a political price for describing Medicare as the death knell of freedom? He did not.

Indeed, the best possible outcome for Senatorial rabble-rousers would be what now appears likely: A minority of GOP House moderates voting with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, avoiding a party-line government shutdown that could doom the Republican Party’s national electoral chances. Speaker Boehner won’t have much choice but to allow it.

See, there’s nothing the Southern wing of the GOP loves more than a heroic defense of a lost cause. Save your Confederate dollars, boys, because…

Well, you know the rest.

Lately the party’s adult leadership has also taken to signaling the need for restraint regarding the National Debt. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, congressional Democrats scrutinize Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore for signs of Republican establishment thinking.

Recently, Moore informed readers that “[t]he biggest underreported story out of Washington this year is that the federal budget is shrinking and much more than anyone in either party expected.”

Overall federal spending that peaked at $3.598 trillion in FY2011 due largely to recession-related costs will drop to $3.45 trillion by the end of FY2013. “The $150 billion budget decline of 4 percent,” Moore writes “is the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

Also dropping is the annual federal budget deficit. Projections by the Congressional Budget Office show a $642 billion shortfall this year—less than half of the $1.3 trillion shortfall the Obama White House inherited from George W. Bush. It’s forecast to drop to $560 billion next year, and $378 billion in 2015.

Moore: “Already the deficit has fallen from its Mount Everest peak of 10.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, to about 4 percent this year. That’s a bullish six percentage points less of the GDP of new federal debt each year.”

In short, informed conservatives understand that there is no need whatsoever for a melodramatic standoff over raising the federal debt limit. No need to risk “the full faith and credit of the United States” by threatening default. Hostages need not be taken.

As in the Obamacare charade, Republican posturing on the debt would only risk catastrophe for the sake of certain defeat.

Alas, but herein lies the rub: The great majority of GOP voters out in the wilderness beyond the Hudson and the Potomac not only don’t know these facts, they’re constitutionally incapable of accepting them.

To followers of politicians like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, fears of fiscal collapse, runaway inflation and social chaos aren’t political ideas, but fixed beliefs scarcely amenable to arithmetic or reason.

And their Antichrist is Barack Obama.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ending Stop-And-Frisk But Keeping The Racism”: Systematic “Post-Racial Colorblind Racism” In All Its Glory

On Monday, US district court judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a serious, but non-lethal blow to the New York City police policy known as “stop-and-frisk.” After weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She did not, however, call for an end to the policy altogether, instead opting to appoint an independent federal monitor to oversee the program and the implementation of reforms that would bring it in line with the Constitution.

Undoubtedly, this is a huge victory for the activists who have been doing work around the issue of stop-and-frisk for years, and perhaps an even bigger victory for the black and Latino young men whose lives have been disproportionately disrupted by repeated violations of their rights. In her ruling, Scheindlin wrote that “the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.” The ruling may not put an end to stop-and-frisk in its entirety, but at the very least there was a recognition from the court that for years the city’s police force has engaged in a racist practice that has infringed upon the rights of millions.

The same can’t be said of NYC’s current political leadership. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly were visibly dismayed with the ruling. Stop-and-frisk has been a signature crime-fighting tool during the Bloomberg years, one that defines his legacy. Kelly has received praise from high places, in large part because of the work he has done in executing the stop-and-frisk policy. For a judge to rule their “success” unconstitutional surely grates. But their defense of “stop-and-frisk,” despite weak attempts to deny as much, went on to show just how racist it is.

To start, Bloomberg noted the racial diversity of the NYPD, presumably to protect against charges of racism by pointing to the fact that people of color are active parts of the police force. But having your rights violated by someone who looks like you doesn’t somehow make that violation less racist. The fact is that out of roughly 5 million stops conducted over a decade, an alarming majority of them involved black or Latino men, and almost 90 percent of those stops turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. You can add some color to the faces conducting the stops, but that’s an institutionalized form of racism that doesn’t rely on white skin to operate.

He didn’t stop there. Bloomberg then deployed some lazy racist rhetoric about how the greatest perpetrators of crime happen to be young black and Latino men, so it only makes sense that the stops would disproportionately affect them. It’s the close relative to his argument that the NYPD has been, given crime statistics, stopping too many white people. Bloomberg and Kelly added the paternalistic line of reasoning that it was young black and Latino men who would also disproportionately be the victims of crimes stop-and-frisk has prevented, so the policy is really for their own benefit. Aside from erasing the opinions of those whom the policy is supposedly meant to protect, that reasoning also perpetuates the racist idea that black and Latino men are inherently violent and criminal, and therefore ignoring their rights is a necessary measure of protection. It also flies in the face of the evidence—stops of white people turn up higher rates of criminal activity. Based on the results of their own policy, it would have been prudent to shift the tactic to include more stops of white people, something that never happened and would likely have caused actual riots in the street.

But none of that is what Bloomberg and Kelly wanted us to focus on. Their most compelling argument: stop-and-frisk works. The city’s homicide rates are down and the police have recovered more than 8,000 guns that may have been used in potential crimes. For the sake of argument, let’s say that stop-and-frisk actually did reduce crime (a claim for which there is no actual evidence, only Bloomberg’s anecdotal belief that it instills fear in would-be criminals to the point they decide a life of crime isn’t worth the police harassment they’re going to receive). Even if that were the case, it still does not justify the use of a racist tactic that violates basic rights guaranteed to every citizen of this country. It’s disingenuous to suggest that the only way to reduce crime is to decide that the rights of certain segments of the population can and should be violated. Not only does this ignore the true drivers of crime (and not call into question whether some of these infractions should even be crimes, e.g., marijuana possession), it’s a frustratingly insidious justification for racism.

To recap: Bloomberg and Kelly denied that stop-and-frisk is racist, but then claimed it wasn’t racist enough, and now want everyone to believe that even if it is racist it doesn’t matter because it works. This is post-racial colorblind racism in all its glory.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what type of reforms to stop-and-frisk are implemented in order to make it constitutional, though I doubt it can be any less racist. We are a society that starts with the presumption the greatest purveyors of crime are young black and Latino men. Any policy based around the idea of reasonable suspicion that then leaves that up to the discretion of people reared with that pervasive racist ideology will be disproportionately suspicious of men of color. Declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional is an important first step, but undoing the racism that creates the justification for the policy will be a much longer process.


By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, August 13, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Senate Minority Bystander”: Given The Circumstances, Mitch McConnell Has Earned His New Title

The fight among Republicans over whether to shut down the government in the fall isn’t going away. The Heritage Foundation’s political-activism arm is trying to convince GOP lawmakers that the fallout wouldn’t be that bad; Karl Rove and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sparred this week on Sean Hannity’s radio show over the strategy; and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus are conspicuously contradicting each other.

This is ordinarily the point at which Republican leaders intervene to prevent the intra-party fissures from getting too severe. And for a brief moment yesterday, it looked like that had finally happened.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a crowd at a health care forum in Kentucky on Tuesday that while he does not like the president’s health care law, shutting down the government over funding it “will not stop” it from existing.

“I’m for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare,” McConnell told the audience at Baptist Health Corbin, according to a WYMT-TV reporter at the event.

Good for McConnell. The Kentucky Republican had been content to sit on the sidelines while Republicans tore each other apart on this issue, but yesterday, he finally offered a little straight talk: those who hope to tear down the federal health care system need to realize that shutting down the government will not actually bring them closer to their goal.

This is the sort of leadership that’s been lacking in the GOP in recent weeks, so it was a welcome a development. That is, until McConnell quickly announced he didn’t really mean it.

As news of McConnell’s comments made the rounds yesterday afternoon, the senator’s office confirmed to Greg Sargent that McConnell “did not take sides in the dispute over whether to stage a shutdown confrontation.”

And as it turns out, the office was telling the truth — a local station aired the interview with McConnell, and while he noted that a shutdown would not stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the senator did not take the next step of endorsing one strategy or another.

In other words, McConnell realizes that shutting down the government won’t stop “Obamacare,” but he thinks a shutdown may be worth doing anyway. Or maybe not. He doesn’t want to say.

Let’s not brush past the larger context. Soon after McConnell seemed to reject his party’s ridiculous (and probably suicidal) shutdown scheme, McConnell’s office was eager — desperate, even — to assure everyone that the Senate Leader was not, in any way, demonstrating any kind of leadership, or stating an opinion in public. He’s aware of the major dispute among his own followers, but McConnell wants one thing to be perfectly clear: he’s ready to let this division continue, without so much as taking a side.

Maybe he needs a new title. Senate Minority Bystander seems more appropriate under the circumstances.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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