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“Women’s Equality Day”: The Vote — A Right Worth Fighting For

Today, August 26, marks Women’s Equality Day. It is also a little more than two months from the 2014 midterm elections. In my mind, these two things are inextricably linked.

Some of you may be asking, “What is Women’s Equality Day?” That’s a pretty easy question to answer. Every year since 1971, the President of the United States marks August 26 in commemoration of the day in 1920 that the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution — granting women equal voting rights — was certified into law.

Women fought long and hard for the right to vote. In 1848, the document produced by the Seneca Falls Convention was the first formal demand for women’s suffrage. During World War I, suffragists picketed the White House — possibly the first “cause” to do so. Many were arrested and participated in a hunger strike while in prison, leading to force feedings.

But not all women obtained access to the ballot box when the 19th amendment entered the law books. In the southern United States, Jim Crow laws kept most black women and men from voting. It wasn’t until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the right to vote was extended to all adult citizens.

Sadly, the clock is turning back on voting rights. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, relieving dozens of state and local jurisdictions from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice. They have wasted no time erecting new barriers against voting. In state after state, GOP-dominated legislatures have enacted new rules aimed at suppressing the votes of specific types of people: younger voters, immigrant citizens, voters of color and unmarried women.

The specific voter suppression laws vary from state to state. The most restrictive states require voters to present a government issued photo ID (a driver’s license, a passport, military ID, etc.); currently, 34 states have voter ID laws, and 15 of those states require photo ID.

The voter-suppression crowd argues that requiring a photo ID for voting is not onerous. It’s just a driver’s license, and you have to have that to drive, or get on a plane, or buy alcohol. Besides, they say, we need photo IDs to prevent voter fraud.

Here’s why that’s all wrong: (1) Voter fraud is all but non-existent in the U.S., and photo ID doesn’t address the very few instances that have been found. (2) Just a reminder for anyone who wasn’t paying attention in middle school, voting is not like driving, buying alcohol or traveling by plane. Voting is a constitutional right and essential to the democratic process. (3) The notion that a photo ID is simply something everyone has presumes all eligible voters have the right paperwork (or the money to get the right paperwork, like a birth certificate), transportation to get to their local DMV, and the ability to take time off work to make the trip.

So, if there is no real voter fraud to worry about, what’s the real goal of voter suppression measures? Well, it turns out that the majority of voting-eligible people in the U.S. disagree with the right wing’s anti-woman, anti-social justice, anti-union agenda. Seven in ten Americans support Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. A majority support labor unions, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. And 62-63 percent support comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship.

The reality is, if enough voters actually turn out for this November’s elections, we could elect candidates who support our issues and turn our country around. Does anyone doubt that the folks trying to suppress our votes are hearing footsteps?

I’ve always been proud of NOW’s position as the grassroots arm of the women’s movement. Our activists and members throughout the country are already doing the hard work on the ground — knocking on doors, making calls, educating and mobilizing voters — to get the word out about how high the stakes are this year. Want to get in on the action? Join me and take NOW’s pledge to vote on November 4th.

The right to vote is precious. Our feminist foremothers were beaten, arrested, went on hunger strikes and endured force-feeding for that right. Our sisters and brothers in the civil rights movement were beaten, jailed and murdered for registering Black voters. This year, let’s honor our proud history by voting in such large numbers that even the most dishonest, most cowardly suppression efforts can’t stop us!

 

By: Terry O’Neil, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington Post Blog, August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Voter Suppression, Voting Rights, War On Women | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wrong Way Nation”: The Growth Of The Sunbelt Isn’t The Kind Of Success Story Conservatives Would Have Us Believe

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is running for president again. What are his chances? Will he once again become a punch line? I have absolutely no idea. This isn’t a horse-race column.

What I’d like to do, instead, is take advantage of Mr. Perry’s ambitions to talk about one of my favorite subjects: interregional differences in economic and population growth.

You see, while Mr. Perry’s hard-line stances and religiosity may be selling points for the Republican Party’s base, his national appeal, if any, will have to rest on claims that he knows how to create prosperity. And it’s true that Texas has had faster job growth than the rest of the country. So have other Sunbelt states with conservative governments. The question, however, is why.

The answer from the right is, of course, that it’s all about avoiding regulations that interfere with business and keeping taxes on rich people low, thereby encouraging job creators to do their thing. But it turns out that there are big problems with this story, quite aside from the habit economists pushing this line have of getting their facts wrong.

To see the problems, let’s tell a tale of three cities.

One of these cities is the place those of us who live in its orbit tend to call simply “the city.” And, these days, it’s a place that’s doing pretty well on a number of fronts. But despite the inflow of immigrants and hipsters, enough people are still moving out of greater New York — a metropolitan area that, according to the Census, extends into Pennsylvania on one side and Connecticut on the other — that its overall population rose less than 5 percent between 2000 and 2012. Over the same period, greater Atlanta’s population grew almost 27 percent, and greater Houston’s grew almost 30 percent. America’s center of gravity is shifting south and west. But why?

Is it, as people like Mr. Perry assert, because pro-business, pro-wealthy policies like those he favors mean opportunity for everyone? If that were the case, we’d expect all those job opportunities to cause rising wages in the Sunbelt, wages that attract ambitious people away from moribund blue states.

It turns out, however, that wages in the places within the United States attracting the most migrants are typically lower than in the places those migrants come from, suggesting that the places Americans are leaving actually have higher productivity and more job opportunities than the places they’re going. The average job in greater Houston pays 12 percent less than the average job in greater New York; the average job in greater Atlanta pays 22 percent less.

So why are people moving to these relatively low-wage areas? Because living there is cheaper, basically because of housing. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, rents (including the equivalent rent involved in buying a house) in metropolitan New York are about 60 percent higher than in Houston, 70 percent higher than in Atlanta.

In other words, what the facts really suggest is that Americans are being pushed out of the Northeast (and, more recently, California) by high housing costs rather than pulled out by superior economic performance in the Sunbelt.

But why are housing prices in New York or California so high? Population density and geography are part of the answer. For example, Los Angeles, which pioneered the kind of sprawl now epitomized by Atlanta, has run out of room and become a surprisingly dense metropolis. However, as Harvard’s Edward Glaeser and others have emphasized, high housing prices in slow-growing states also owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction. Limits on building height in the cities, zoning that blocks denser development in the suburbs and other policies constrict housing on both coasts; meanwhile, looser regulation in the South has kept the supply of housing elastic and the cost of living low.

So conservative complaints about excess regulation and intrusive government aren’t entirely wrong, but the secret of Sunbelt growth isn’t being nice to corporations and the 1 percent; it’s not getting in the way of middle- and working-class housing supply.

And this, in turn, means that the growth of the Sunbelt isn’t the kind of success story conservatives would have us believe. Yes, Americans are moving to places like Texas, but, in a fundamental sense, they’re moving the wrong way, leaving local economies where their productivity is high for destinations where it’s lower. And the way to make the country richer is to encourage them to move back, by making housing in dense, high-wage metropolitan areas more affordable.

So Rick Perry doesn’t know the secrets of job creation, or even of regional growth. It would be great to see the real key — affordable housing — become a national issue. But I don’t think Democrats are willing to nominate Mayor Bill de Blasio for president just yet.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 24, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Housing Costs, Sunbelt | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obamacare, Beyond The Label”: The Politics Of Obamacare Are Upside-Down

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam-dunk issue for the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.”

So how’s that Obamacare thing working out for the GOP?

The most significant bit of election news over the last week was the decision of Senator Mark Pryor, the embattled Arkansas Democrat, to run an ad touting his vote for the health care law as a positive for the people of his increasingly Republican state.

Pryor’s ad is so soft and personal that it’s almost apolitical. After his dad, the popular former senator David Pryor, tells of his son’s bout with cancer, he notes that “Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.” The picture has widened to show Mark Pryor sitting next to his father. “No one should be fighting an insurance company while you’re fighting for your life,” he says. “That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Who knew a law that critics claim is so dreadful could provide such powerful reassurance to Americans who are ill?

Democrats have never fully recovered from the Obama administration’s lousy sales job for (and botched rollout of) what is, legitimately, its proudest domestic achievement. That’s one reason Pryor doesn’t use the word “Obamacare” in describing what he voted for. Another is that in many of the states with contested Senate races this year, most definitely including Arkansas, President Obama himself is so unpopular that if you attached his name to Social Security, one of the most popular programs in American history would probably drop 20 points in the polls.

So, as the liberal bloggers Greg Sargent, Brian Beutler and Steve Benen have all noted, Republicans would much prefer to run against the law’s name and brand than the law itself. They also really want to avoid being pressed for specifics as to what “repealing Obamacare” would mean in practice.

As one Democratic pollster told me, his focus groups showed that when voters outside the Republican base are given details about what the law does and how it works, “people come around and say, ‘That’s not so bad, what’s everybody excited about?’”

This consultant says of Democrats who voted for the law: “You’re going to be stuck with all the bad about this but not benefit from any of the good unless you advertise” what the Affordable Care Act does. This is what Pryor has decided to do.

In fact, according to Gallup, Arkansas is the No. 1 state in the country when it comes to reducing the proportion of its uninsured since the main provisions of the ACA took effect. The drop was from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in 2014. The No. 2 state is Kentucky, where the uninsured rate fell from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent. What they have in common are Democratic governors, Mike Beebe in Arkansas and Steve Beshear in Kentucky, committed to using Obamacare — especially, albeit in different ways, its Medicaid expansion — to help their citizens who lack coverage. Beshear has been passionate in selling his state’s version of Obamacare, which is called kynect.

Kentucky also happens to be the site of another of this year’s key Senate races. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is giving Republican leader Mitch McConnell what looks to be the toughest re-election challenge of his 30-year Senate career.

The Bluegrass State is particularly instructive on the importance of labeling and branding. A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month found that the Affordable Care Act had a net negative approval rating, 34 percent to 51 percent. But kynect was rated positively, 34 percent to 27 percent. Grimes and the Democrats need to confront McConnell forcefully on the issue he has tried to fudge: A flat repeal of Obamacare would mean taking insurance away from the more than 521,000 Kentuckians who, as of last Friday, had secured coverage through kynect. How would that sit with the state’s voters?

Election results, like scripture, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. You can bet that foes of expanding health insurance coverage will try to interpret every Republican victory as a defeat for Obamacare. But as Mark Pryor knows, the president’s unpopularity in certain parts of the country doesn’t mean that voters want to throw his greatest accomplishment overboard — even if they’d be happy to rename it.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; The National Memo, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mark Pryor, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Youthful Mistakes Turn Deadly”: The Shameful Disparities In The Application Of Justice

To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we’ve seen so many times, can be fatal.

The case of Michael Brown, who was laid to rest Monday, is anomalous only in that it is so extreme: an unarmed black teenager riddled with bullets by a white police officer in a community plagued by racial tension.

African Americans make up 67 percent of the population of Ferguson, Mo., but there are just three black officers on the 53-member police force — which responded to peaceful demonstrations by rolling out military-surplus armored vehicles and firing tear gas. It is easy to understand how Brown and his peers might see the police not as public servants but as troops in an army of occupation.

And yes, Brown made mistakes. He was walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, and he was carrying a box of cigars that he apparently took from a convenience store. Neither is a capital offense.

When Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, did Brown respond with puffed-up attitude? For a young black man, that is a transgression punishable by death.

Fatal encounters such as the one between Brown and Wilson understandably draw the nation’s attention. But such tragedies are just the visible manifestation of a much larger reality. Most, if not all, young men go through a period between adolescence and adulthood when they are likely to engage in risky behavior of various kinds without fully grasping the consequences of their actions. If they are white — well, boys will be boys. But if they are black, they are treated as men and assumed to have malicious intent.

What else explains the shameful disparities in the application of justice? As I have pointed out before, blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke marijuana; if anything, blacks are slightly less likely to toke up. Yet African Americans — and Hispanics — are about four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites.

To compound this inequality, studies also indicate that, among people who are arrested for using or selling marijuana, black defendants are much more likely than white defendants to serve prison time. For young white men, smoking a joint is no big deal. For young black men, it can ruin your life.

Similarly, blacks and whites are equally likely to use cocaine. But a person convicted of selling crack cocaine will serve a far longer prison term than one convicted of selling the same quantity of powder cocaine, even though these are just two forms of the same drug. Crack is the way cocaine is usually sold in the inner cities, while powder is more popular in the suburbs — which is one big reason there are so many African American and Hispanic men filling our prisons.

One arrest — even for a minor offense — can be enough to send a promising young life reeling in the wrong direction. Police officers understand this and exercise discretion. But evidence suggests they are much more willing to give young white men a break than young black or brown men.

Why would this be? In Ferguson, I would argue, one obvious factor is the near-total lack of diversity among police officers. What year is this, anyway?

But there is disparate treatment even in communities where the racial makeup of the police force more closely resembles that of the population. I believe the central problem is that a young black man who encounters a police officer is assumed to have done something wrong and to be capable of violence. These assumptions make the officer more prepared than he otherwise might be to use force — even deadly force.

The real tragedy is that racist assumptions are self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing. If young black men are treated unfairly by the justice system, they are indeed more likely to have arrest records — and, perhaps, to harbor resentment against police authority. They may indeed feel they have nothing to lose by exhibiting defiance. In some circumstances — and these may include the streets of Ferguson — they may feel that standing up to the police is a matter of self-respect.

Michael Brown had no police record. By all accounts, he had no history of violence. He had finished high school and was going to continue his education. All of this was hidden, apparently, by the color of his skin.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Damning And Far More Serious”: Wisconsin’s Walker Confronted With Damaging New Details

For all the current and former Republican governors facing serious scandals – Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, et al – let’s not forget about Gov. Scott Walker. The Wisconsin chief executive is in the middle of a tough re-election fight – which he’ll have to win to move forward with his presidential plans – and a lingering controversy is making his task more difficult.

To briefly recap, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. When Walker faced a recall campaign, however, he and his team may have directly overseen how outside groups – including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits – spent their campaign resources.

Late Friday night, the allegations surrounding the governor’s office appear to have grown far more serious. Consider this report from Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal.

Gov. Scott Walker personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, which prosecutors cited as evidence the governor and his campaign violated state campaign finance laws, records made public on Friday show.

Among the groups that donated money to Wisconsin Club for Growth during that time was Gogebic Taconite, which contributed $700,000, according to the records. The company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

In an April court filing unsealed briefly on Friday, a lawyer wrote, “Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited.”

I think it’s safe to say these revelations do not cast Walker and his team in a positive light. On the contrary, Friday’s night’s evidence appears quite damning.

As additional reporting from the weekend makes clear, Team Walker, with the governor’s direct involvement, is accused of raising money for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn ran ads to support the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies.

In one especially damaging detail, Walker was dispatched to Las Vegas with talking points on the importance of unregulated contributions for the supposedly independent nonprofit group.

“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits,” an aide told Walker via email. “Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth allegedly funneled these unregulated contributions to allies, all to help Walker prevail in his recall election. Indeed, the reports suggest the governor insisted on Wisconsin Club for Growth maintaining a leadership role in order to “ensure correct messaging.” A fundraising consultant for Walker to one of the governor’s campaign consultants, “We had some past problems with multiple groups doing work on ‘behalf’ of Gov. Walker and it caused some issues.”

The coordination aspect is clearly problematic under campaign-finance laws, but the scandal may also include a possible quid-pro-quo angle.

Other Wisconsin Club for Growth donors included Gogebic Taconite LLC, which has proposed opening a 4 1/2-mile long iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company gave $700,000 to Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Walker signed legislation last year streamlining state mining requirements and paving the way for the project. The documents don’t show whether Walker directly solicited donations from that company. A spokesman for the company did not return a message seeking comment.

There are 71 days until Election Day in Wisconsin. These are probably not the kind of headlines the Republican governor was hoping for as the campaign cycle approaches Labor Day.

Postscript: If you’re new to Walker’s scandal or need a refresher, this Q&A is helpful (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 25, 2014

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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