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“A Plainly Visible Reality”: Proof That Voter Impersonation Almost Never Happens

An enduring Republican fantasy is that there are armies of fraudulent voters lurking in the baseboards of American life, waiting for the opportunity to crash the polls and undermine the electoral system. It’s never really been clear who these voters are or how their schemes work; perhaps they are illegal immigrants casting votes for amnesty, or poor people seeking handouts.  Most Republican politicians know these criminals don’t actually exist, but they have found it useful to take advantage of the party base’s pervasive fear of outsiders, just as when they shot down immigration reform. In this case, they persuaded the base of the need for voter ID laws to ensure “ballot integrity,” knowing the real effect would be to reduce Democratic turnout.

Now a researcher has tried to quantify this supposed threat by documenting every known case of voter fraud since 2000 — specifically, the kind of impersonation that would be stopped by an ID requirement. (Note that this does not include ballot-box stuffing by officials, vote-buying or coercion: the kinds of fraud that would not be affected by an ID law.)

There have been more than 1 billion votes cast in local, state and federal elections over the last 14 years. Out of all of them, the researcher, Justin Levitt, a voting expert at the Loyola University Law School, found 31 cases of impersonation fraud. It’s hardly a surprise that the number is so low; as he writes in the Washington Post today, casting individual fake ballots “is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.”

A look at some of the 31 cases shows how pathetic the fraudulent-voter threat really is. In May, Ben Hodzic was accused of voting in his brother’s name in the Catskill, N.Y., School District Board of Education election. In June 2011, Hazel Brionne Woodard of Tarrant County, Tex., allegedly arranged for her son to vote in the municipal runoff elections in the name of his father. In 2004, an unknown person signed the pollbook line as Rose-Mary McGee, of Albuquerque, N.M.

These conspiracies were the pretext for the voter ID laws that have now been passed in 34 states. And the arguments in many of those states have reached an absurdly high pitch. In Virginia, for example, Republicans are saying that the ID card required in their law has to be current; if you happen to let your driver’s license expire, you can’t vote, even though the photo on the card clearly demonstrates your identity. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, says that’s unconstitutional.

But neither the Constitution nor plainly visible reality is likely to halt the Republican crusade to keep certain people from participating in democracy. As the National Commission on Voting Rights documented in a new report, voting discrimination remains “a frequent and ongoing problem,” particularly in the South and Southwest, in part because of new barriers to voting thrown up by state legislators.

“It is difficult not to view these voting changes with a jaundiced eye,” the report says, “given the practical impediments they create and the minimal, if any, measurable legitimate benefit they offer.”

 

By: David Firestone, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, August 6, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Voter Fraud, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Behind The Media’s Ebola Sensationalism?”: How Deeply The Right-Wing Anti-Science Message Has Taken Hold On TV

CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all treated the return of Kent Brantly, the American doctor who contracted Ebola in Liberia, as if he were riding to the hospital in a white Ford Bronco. Chopper cams and speculative commentary trailed his ambulance Saturday through the streets of Atlanta with the kind of excited intensity usually reserved for police car chases and killers on the lamb.

In the end, the breathless live coverage was revealed to be embarrassingly over-the-top: Brantly didn’t even need a stretcher; he climbed out of the parked ambulance in a hazmat suit and walked, with the support of just one person, into a back door of Emory University Hospital. That was the tip-off that giving a disease the O.J. treatment is a symptom of a media sickness for which there appears to be no cure.

Ebola is a terrible hemorrhagic fever that can kill from 50 percent to 90 percent of those who contract it. It’s also a symbol to the political right of all the Third World horrors that liberals are inviting past the walls of our City on the Hill. But now that two American aid workers—Nancy Writebol has just arrived at Emory, on a stretcher but, so far, with less fanfare—have brought it directly to our shores, it’s a Clear and Present Danger.

Georgia congressman Phil Gingrey went so far last month as to warn that the Central American children who’ve been turning up at border stations around the country might be smuggling Ebola in with them, like so many contagious Trojan horses (even though Ebola fever has never been detected in a patient outside of Africa). Howlers like Gingrey’s—echoed Monday by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)—work because Ebola, “diseased” immigrants, and “blood pollution” of all sorts fit neatly into the racist subtext of the radical right’s opposition to Obama. After all, our “lawless,” African-born POTUS, whose parents faked a birth certificate fifty-three years ago this week in order to infect America with socialism today, just happens to be hosting fifty-one African nations at a summit in Washington. How much proof do you need?

Various studies have shown that conservatives have a lower threshold for disgust than liberals do, and Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (like vomit, feces and blood, but not through sneezing or coughing) certainly crosses that low bar. Nor is it lost on wingers that AIDS originated in Africa, too.

But many of the diseases that humans are heir to are pretty damn disgusting, no matter where they originate. There aren’t two tiers of diseases any more than there are two tiers of humanity.

There is, however, Donald Trump, who tends to elevate fear of cooties into a political philosophy. He sent out a series of tweets—including “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days—now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!”—that exhibit the germ phobia we’ve come to expect from isolated billionaire crackpots (Trump will be wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes any day now). Unusually for a Republican, though, the magnate’s fears aren’t overcome by the fact that the two infected Americans are Christian missionaries. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” he also tweeted. “People that go to far away places to help out are great—but must suffer the consequences!”

And never mind that fighting such viruses at their place of origin is far more effective than pretending there’s a disinfectant force-field around the Homeland. Brantly is reported to have been suffering the consequences of doing good with a vengeance until he received two emergency treatments: an experimental serum developed by a San Diego pharmaceutical company, and, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the relief organization working with Brantly, a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived the disease after Brantly cared for him in Liberia. Guess which treatment gets more coverage on American TV?

Which brings us back to the fever the media has been suffering ever since the ascent of the Tea Party. Rather than dispel unscientific and political myths, the instinct at many news outlets has been to promote them. The scientific truth the media should have been promoting all along isn’t that Ebola is a Holy Terror emerging from “other” races and immune to Western treatment; rather, it’s a horrible illness with a terrifically high kill rate because up to now it has appeared only in Africa, where clean water, enforced quarantines and disposable medical supplies are hard to come by. That first take played on cable news channels, regardless of their political leanings, is a measure of just how deeply the right-wing anti-science message has taken hold on TV.

But by sheer accident, the car-chase media did the public a service, demonstrating, as Brantly walked into the hospital, that the existential danger over Ebola is being oversold. MSNBC anchor Alex Witt asked on-air physicians, including NBC in-house doctor Nancy Snyderman, if they would be afraid to treat Brantly. No, said Snyderman. Any doctor would be “excited” by the opportunity to use the medical precautions and equipment available in America to find effective treatments for the disease without spreading it.

And maybe, once again, The Onion said it best: “Experts: Ebola Vaccine at Least 50 White People Away.”

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, August 5, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Media, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For Sale -Going Fast”: An Independent Judiciary — Buy A Judge Today

According to the New York Times the retention election of three Tennessee judges “has been preceded by an expensive and acrimonious campaign bolstered by organizations like Americans for Prosperity, which receives financial support from the billionaires Charles G. and David Koch and other conservative groups”. Those supporting retention of the judges have been compelled to raise “more than $1 million” to combat the effort to defeat them. Could there be anything more unseemly or contrary to the purposes for which the judiciary was established?

I do not doubt that there are persons out there (and even corporations now) who contribute to judicial campaigns for the purpose of electing or retaining judges who are fair, competent and impartial and who will carry out the applicable laws and enforce the state and federal constitutions. Then there are the other 99 percent who wish to influence particular matters or judicial philosophy in general. Judges are not and were never intended to be elected representatives. I cringe at the constant contention that judges should be held “accountable”. They are accountable to the laws and the Constitution. They should not be subject to the whim of those who find certain past rulings objectionable or seek to influence future ones by buying elections. Nothing could weaken the independence of the judiciary more than having judges removed or not re-elected because of prior decisions that they have made.

The whole concept of judicial independence is that judges should feel to rule as they deem correct without fear of retaliation. Nor should judges undertake the position with some feeling that they are indebted to those who have financed their election. Per the Times: “The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group, plans to spend at least $5 million on judicial races this year.” Why? Because they want to influence future judicial decisions.

Let’s face it — this movement is exclusively a conservative one. Conservatives own it. Judges are to be ousted for “liberal” rulings like upholding same-sex marriage, ordering new trials in death penalty cases or generally ruling in favor of persons charged with crimes — stuff like upholding the Constitution. Judicial elections are degrading. Voters do not know whether or not the candidates are qualified. And finally money has further corrupted the process. I have said on prior occasions: Can you imagine a lawyer or a litigant walking up to a judge in the middle of a trial and handing the judge a check for his or her campaign? Would it make any difference if the check was delivered a week before? And isn’t it even worse now that the big boys are coming in with even bigger checks?

We should end judicial elections entirely, but until we do, we must find a way to limit the corrupting influence of money in the election process and stop putting the judiciary up for sale.

 

By: Judge H. Lee Sarokin, The Huffington Post Blog, August 7, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Judges, Judiciary | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Different Set Of Rules”: Tax Dodger Running For Governor In Illinois

If you are not in the Chicago media market, you might not know much about Bruce Rauner, the Mitt Romney-like candidate for governor in Illinois, who is running ahead in the polls against Democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

If Rauner wins, Illinois will have a lot more in common with its neighbor, Wisconsin. Politically, Rauner resembles union-basher and school privatizer Scott Walker. Only Rauner is much, much richer.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun Times, Rauner talked about his career at GTCR, the Chicago-based private equity firm he founded.

“I made a ton of money, made a lot of money,” he told Sun Times reporter Natasha Korecki.

When Korecki asked Rauner, a billionaire who owns nine homes and made $53 million last year, if he is part of the 1 percent, he corrected her: “Oh, I’m probably .01 percent.”

Last Sunday, the Sun-Times broke the news that Rauner has made himself even richer by avoiding taxes and hiding a lot of his wealth in the Cayman Islands.

Rauner has not released his current tax returns, so the full value of his offshore accounts is not verifiable, but the Sun Times was able to document five offshore holdings by Rauner in the Caymans.

A detailed analysis by the Chicago Tribune shows that Rauner used many other complicated tax strategies “out of reach for those of more modest means” to cut his tax bill to less than half the rate paid by other earners in the top bracket:

Thanks to one business-tax strategy, Rauner paid no Social Security or Medicare taxes at all in 2010 or 2011, the Trib reports.

Meanwhile, Rauner is campaigning against “government union bosses,” and teachers unions in particular, and is targeting public employee pensions, with a plan to freeze the Illinois pension plan and convert it into a 401(k)-style retirement account, in order, he claims, to save the state billions.

He says he got into the race because he wants to “reform” public education, and is a big charter school advocate.

“I am adamantly, adamantly against raising the minimum wage,” Rauner said in a campaign event captured on video in January.

He has since backed off that position, and says he supports a minimum-wage increase.

Rauner’s campaign has also had to respond to stories about his phone call to Obama’s education secretary Arne Duncan, pulling strings to get his daughter into prestigious Walter Payton College Prep High School, after the school rejected her.

The Sun-Times reported in January that Rauner made a $250,000 contribution to Payton after his daughter was admitted.

Rauner’s story shows what’s behind all that union-bashing and belt-tightening for the poor and middle class–rightwing billionaires like Rauner push these policies, even as they play by an entirely different set of rules, dodging taxes, pulling strings, and get special treatment most people could never afford.

If he is elected, Rauner, like Walker, might support legislation to loosen the rules to help other wealthy investors and corporations avoid taxes by parking their assets abroad–leaving even less revenue for the public sector he and his rightwing billionaire friends love to bash.

 

By: Ruth Conniff, Editor-in-Chief of The Progressive Magazine; Published at The Center for Media and Democracy, August 6, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Illinois, Tax Evasion, Taxes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Charles Koch’s Affront To MLK”: How A Right-Wing Tycoon Got Horribly Confused

You’ve got to hand it to Charles Koch: The man doesn’t want for self-confidence. The Kochs and their allies are taking a page from Sen. Rand Paul and trying to dress up their free-market, anti-union, welfare-slashing 21st century feudalism as the answer to persistent African-American unemployment even as the economy recovers under President Obama.

Unbelievably, Koch invokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an ally in a stunning USA Today Op-Ed, “How to really turn the economy around,” which is essentially an argument for deregulating business, slashing welfare programs and forcing low-wage work on the poor in the name of the ennobling power of employment.

With laughable Koch paternalism, he shares life lessons from his father, Fred, an oil industry magnate and John Birch Society founder: “When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs,” Koch tells us. “Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.”

Not only does Koch fail to mention that he was the son of a very wealthy man when he worked those “unpleasant jobs,” he cites Dr. King as someone who agrees with him that “there are no dead end jobs.” (The Kochs, by the way, also fund “educational” groups that oppose the minimum wage.)

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

This from a man who himself joined the John Birch Society in the mid-1960s, while it was targeting King as a “communist.”

Koch is right about one thing: King was indeed a great admirer of street sweepers. In fact, he was murdered visiting Memphis to fight for the right of city sanitation workers to join a union. Invoking King on behalf of his low-wage, union-busting, anti-minimum wage agenda is despicable, but Koch apparently thinks his money can buy him anything, including the right to claim King’s legacy.

He’s wrong. King died, by the way, while supporting AFSCME, the union representing the Memphis sanitation workers. AFSCME honored Dr. King by making the painful yet correct decision to end a partnership with the United Negro College Fund after UNCF accepted $25 million from the Kochs to establish a “Koch Scholars” program for black students. UNCF head Dr. Michael Lomax also dignified the annual Koch Summit, which plots its right-wing, free-market strategy, in June, alongside Republican senators and right-wing think tankers.

Along with their UNCF donation, which the Kochs widely publicized, Charles Koch’s Op-Ed represents a new front in their public relations battle. Neither their billions in wealth nor their trademark political stealth have served to insulate them from criticism and scorn. When asked about the Koch brothers, a recent George Washington University poll found that most people surveyed hadn’t heard of them, but 25 percent had negative feelings vs. 13 percent who had positive feelings. That’s bad news for a duo who have tried to keep their political activities undercover.

They apparently believe that funding African-American Koch scholars and invoking Dr. King can convince black voters they’re not the enemy. But quoting King on the dignity of street sweepers while forgetting – or never knowing – that he died while fighting for their right to unionize is at best boneheaded, at worst disrespectful. It won’t convince many Koch doubters.

Charles Koch’s billions can’t buy King’s legacy or King’s blessing for his radical far-right agenda, which opposes everything King stood for. But he probably can afford better ghostwriters.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief, Salon, August 7, 2014

August 8, 2014 Posted by | Jobs, Koch Brothers, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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