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“The Power Of The Franchise”: Voting Still Matters When It Comes To Political Clout

More than a half-century after brave protesters marched and bled and died to demand the right to vote for black citizens, the ballot box remains a potent weapon for civic and political change — a radical undertaking that can shake up social systems and correct inequities and injustices. If there is any good news in the untimely death of Michael Brown, it’s that the black residents of Ferguson, Missouri, have been reminded of the power of the franchise.

As protests have ebbed and activists have sought solutions to police brutality, they’ve started to register Ferguson’s underrepresented black citizens to vote. That won’t solve every problem, nor will it produce instant results, but it’s certainly one obvious avenue toward social change.

It took tragedy and weeks of unrest — the unarmed Brown, a black teenager, was killed by a white police officer on August 9 — to awaken a sense of urgency. Even as the two elections of President Obama proved, once again, the persuasiveness of the ballot, many Americans, especially those in historically oppressed ethnic groups, failed to appreciate its power in state and local affairs.

As the demographics of Ferguson have changed over the last 10 to 20 years, its newer residents have not exercised their political clout. The city was about 80 percent white in 1980, but its white population was down to less than 33 percent by 2010, according to the U.S. Census. You wouldn’t know that from looking at its local leaders.

The city council of six has just one black member; the school board comprises six whites and one Latino. Of the 53 sworn police officers on the force, just three are black. That helps explain a law enforcement agency that shows disrespect and hostility toward its black citizens.

There is a danger, of course, in exaggerating the power of politicians to change the habits formed from centuries of racial injustice or to correct systemic inequities that remain stubbornly entrenched. Obama, indeed, is a case in point. He has attracted a noisy, if tiny, group of black detractors who regularly denounce him for failing to appreciably roll back the racism that has haunted black America for generations.

He has been criticized for failing to adopt a “black agenda” that would employ black Americans and close the gap between white and black earning power. He has been excoriated for occasionally reminding black audiences that hard work and responsible conduct engender success, even as racism remains a cultural force. He has even been castigated for failing to speak out more forcefully against police misconduct in Ferguson.

It’s understandable that there’s a degree of frustration and disappointment that Obama’s election hasn’t done more to mitigate historic forces. After his election in 2008, it seemed that barriers to black success would fall rapidly. Instead, there remains a significant gap in most measures of economic well-being, starting with the unemployment rate. While about 6.6 percent of whites are currently unemployed, about 12.6 percent of blacks are jobless.

That gap hasn’t changed in 50 years, and educational attainment doesn’t alter it appreciably. While the unemployment rate is lower for black college grads than for blacks with high school diplomas, there is still more joblessness among blacks with college degrees than among whites with similar educations.

There’s not much Obama, or any president, can do to change that. Still, elections matter because politicians can encourage progress in any number of ways, large and small. The Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — is just one example of that. While its provisions apply to all Americans, it affects blacks disproportionately because they are less likely to be able to afford policies without it.

If the vote didn’t matter, Republicans would not have worked so hard over the last decade to block the franchise. They’ve pushed through voter ID laws, cut back early voting and purged voter rolls — all in an effort to block a few voters of color, a cohort that tends to vote for Democrats. That’s testimony to the enduring power of the vote, a power that Ferguson’s black citizens should put to good use.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, August 30, 2014

August 31, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Republican Gives Up Obamacare Fight”: Unfortunately For Corbett, It’s Probably Too Late To Save His Re-Election Campaign

Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is the latest Republican to retreat from the Obamacare wars.

On Thursday, the federal government approved Governor Corbett’s plan to expand Medicaid in the Keystone State, making it the 27th state in the nation to adopt the controversial provision of the Affordable Care Act. Corbett had initially opposed expanding Medicaid at all, but earlier this year he bowed to mounting political pressure by offering a plan that would expand Medicaid with a number of Republican-friendly conditions, such as a work requirement and the authority to charge premiums for recipients living below the poverty line. Those did not make it into the final deal.

The agreement should be a boon to Pennsylvania’s working poor; at least 500,000 Medicaid-eligible Pennsylvanians will now be able to sign up for coverage starting on January 1. It will also save the state $4.5 billion over the next eight years, according to Corbett (independent studies have pegged the savings to be even higher)

Corbett clearly hopes that the news will provide a political boost as well. The governor’s announcement of the agreement, which calls it “historic,” “innovative,” and “truly a Pennsylvania solution,” is just about the nicest thing that any elected Republican has ever said about the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, Medicaid expansion is wildly popular in Pennsylvania. And as of last week, the Republican governors on the ballot in 2014 who have adopted Medicaid expansion were polling an average of 8.5 percent better than those who hadn’t. It’s not hard to understand what prompted Corbett’s change of heart.

Unfortunately for Corbett, it’s probably too late to save his re-election campaign; the terminally gaffe-prone governor trails his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 16.6 percent according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. But plenty of other Republicans have also realized that it makes sense to buck the party line on Medicaid expansion. As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has documented, GOP senate candidates such as Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina have tied themselves in knots trying to explain how they would repeal the Affordable Care Act without getting rid of any of the popular parts.

It’s almost as if voters would rather expand health care coverage than burn billions of dollars to thumb their noses at the White House.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to happen. For over a year, Republicans have been promising that Obamacare would be the anchor that sinks every Democrat on the ballot and sparks a GOP wave in November. Instead, many Republicans are now either embracing sections of the law, or just ignoring it altogether. It appears that we can add this blown prediction to long list of Obamacare disasters that stubbornly refused to materialize.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 29, 2014

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Tom Corbett | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheese Head Guv’s Sleazy Past”: Scott Walker, One Of The Most Divisive Governors In The Country

Tens of thousands of protesters make for much better television than court documents, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to Scott Walker’s scandal-plagued re-election bid this year—even if it is unaccompanied by the hoopla of his 2012 recall election. In that year, Walker was able to best a weak Democratic candidate in an election where some voters backed him because of concerns about whether a recall was appropriate, and not because they supported his union-busting legislation.

This year, the most recent poll has Walker trailing the Democratic nominee, Mary Burke, by two percentage points among likely voters, and the embattled GOP incumbent has faced new allegations that he illegally coordinated outside spending during his recall election with groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth. But while the 2012 recall excited liberals across the country (it seemed at times during that election that MSNBC’s Ed Schultz had moved to the Badger State), this year liberals can barely muster a shrug.

Part of this ennui, as Noam Scheiber at The New Republic points out, is that it’s not in anyone’s interest to make a big deal about Walker, despite the fact that he might be running for president in a couple years. After losing to him in 2012, liberals have a kind of political PTSD when it comes to Wisconsin, and are afraid of raising the stakes in the campaign.

Plus, Burke is a relatively moderate former business executive, which makes her a good candidate for a general election, but not exactly the best one to excite the progressive base. And without shots of hordes of protesters like the kind that swarmed the state capital in Madison two years ago, the campaign becomes far less compelling for television, and is thus unlikely to receive much national coverage.

The outrage that Walker is provoking is of a less exciting variety this time around. In 2012, there were teachers and small-town government workers made furious by Walker’s efforts to quash collective bargaining rights for public employees. In 2014, however, there is far less uproar over Walker potentially violating campaign finance laws to encourage corporations to give unlimited donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth—and only the Wisconsin Club for Growth. In an email to a consultant for that group who also served as an adviser to the governor in 2011, a Walker aide emphasized that the incumbent wanted “all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging.”

These efforts are further illustrated in an email that Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker aide, sent the governor before a fundraising trip in 2011, which told him to “stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits.”

Rindfleisch, who has since been convicted of misconduct in office as a result of one of the many investigations surrounding Walker, added that the governor should stress to donors that he could accept corporate contributions that wouldn’t be reported.

A national Democratic consultant familiar with the race took pains to point out what a big prize Walker would be for the left. The Wisconsin governor “is very vulnerable, in a very dangerous spot for an incumbent and the fact that he hasn’t committed to serve out his next term means that what happens in Wisconsin is likely to have an effect on ’16.” But most importantly for Democrats, knocking off Walker would be a major consolation prize if they lose control of the Senate in 2014.

With prospects of holding on to a majority in the Senate uncertain, Walker offers Democrats an enviable scalp to wave in November. After all, he has been one of the most divisive governors in the country, and serves in a key swing state. Plus, Walker evokes so much anger among parts of the Democratic base that would lessen the bite of potential losses in national races.

Although some national progressive groups are starting to focus on the race—Democracy for America announced Thursday that it was backing Burke to “put a stop to the flow of extreme right-wing legislation that has been poisoning” Wisconsin under Walker—the attention is still far less than in 2012, when outside Democratic groups flooded the Badger State with money. The result is that Walker still has a significant fundraising advantage heading into final two months of campaigning.

The question, though, is whether the incumbent can hold on and win in the swing state. Because while Walker may savor the absence of protesters demonstrating against him, his poll numbers are still worse than they were in 2012.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, August 28, 2014

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The True Bounds Of Executive Authority”: The Possession Of Great Power Necessarily Implies Great Responsibility

With Congress mired in gridlock, President Obama has vowed to use “a pen and a phone” to accomplish some of his policy goals. Last week, he doubled down by promising to act on one of the nation’s most divisive and important issues — immigration — before the rapidly approaching end of summer. Such executive action has outraged his political foes. To be sure, any ambitious path of executive action must be conducted in a manner consistent with the law and the appropriate role of coordinate branches. But should we snap to attention when we hear hyperventilating about his supposed abuse of power? At least so far, hardly.

All presidents have significant power to advance policy goals through executive action. That power is limited by the Constitution, above all else. The Supreme Court has made it clear that when Congress has not acted, and no federal law blocks it, the president has considerable leeway to act. Through the years, presidents of both parties have used the tools at hand. Ronald Reagan reined in regulatory agencies. Bill Clinton declared major swaths of land off limits for development, and cracked down on tobacco. George W. Bush made major moves to limit stem cell research. And presidents (including this one) have used, and often abused, executive authority when it comes to national security, often moving in secret.

Where does President Obama stack up in this hall of presidents? In fact, so far, he has not been especially more aggressive than his predecessors. He issued executive orders at a slower pace than any president since Grover Cleveland. Quantity is not quality, but the orders he has issued have not been particularly bold — no seizing steel mills (as Harry Truman did) or sending the National Guard to Little Rock (as Dwight Eisenhower did). One unilateral power clearly given to the president by the Constitution is the pardon power. Here, too, Obama has issued fewer pardons and grants of clemency to prisoners serving unjust sentences than most presidents.

This has not stopped his political opponents from screaming that he is abusing his power. The House of Representatives recently voted to sue him for one act of supposed overreaching: delays in implementing the employer mandate and other parts of the Affordable Care Act. Set aside the weirdness of such a claim (this is the same House that wants to repeal the same law). Once a bill is passed by Congress, the executive branch has the authority to execute it. Realistically, putting complex statutes such as the ACA into place will have bumps in the road. In this case, it turned out that the ACA could not be accomplished as quickly as hoped — in part because several states refused to cooperate. But presidents have delayed implementation of laws in the past without arousing ire. George W. Bush used his executive authority in 2004 to waive penalty fees for seniors who signed up late for Medicare Part D, another contentious health care law.

Will the president’s use of executive power to advance his goals on immigration reform be constitutional? Depends. No president has authority to do a complete immigration overhaul by fiat. And we don’t fully know what is contemplated, which must of course meet the test of legality. But this president, as any president, has ample room for action. He has asked for a set of formal recommendations from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and has looked at expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to allow for deferred deportations, at the discretion of federal prosecutors. It makes perfect sense for the president to use his finite resources in a way that is fiscally responsible and protects the public interest. Indeed, he has already done so on a smaller scale two years ago when he created DACA to ceased deportation of young immigrants who met certain criteria.

The government cannot deport everyone; it simply doesn’t have the capacity. Prioritizing deporting violent criminals is hardly earth-shattering, or Constitution-shattering. Law enforcement and prosecutors exercise discretion all the time in determining which cases to investigate and prosecute. In the real world of an “under-resourced” system, choosing how to allocate the resources that Congress does give him is clearly within the president’s purview.

Our government functions on a system of checks and balances. It’s true that the Constitution grants Congress more powers than the president. But, as William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, said during a debate in Parliament in 1817, “the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility” (150 years later, Spider-Man agreed). A paralyzed Congress has abdicated its responsibility and spurred the president to act. President Obama is simply is doing what he must do to keep the United States running.

 

By: Inimai Chettiar, Director, Justice Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law; The Hufington Post Blog, August 29, 2014

 

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Constitution, Executive Orders | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Perish The Thought”: Rep. Peter King, Obama’s New Fashion Critic

Political commentary on President Obama’s clothing choices started almost immediately after his inauguration. Just two weeks after the president took the oath of office, Republican critics started complaining about photographs showing Obama in the Oval Office without a jacket on. Democrats responded by showing pictures of Reagan dressed in similar Oval Office attire, and the right quietly moved on.

But over the years, the complaints lingered – about the president’s jeans, the president’s neckwear, etc.

Yesterday, interest in presidential attire reached a level that was hard to believe, with the political world going a little bonkers over Obama’s tan suit. Andrew Kaczynski flagged the latest from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) whose apoplexy about the color of the president’s suit was so over the top, it’s tempting to think this is satire.

“There’s no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday,” King said of President Obama on NewsMaxTV. “When you have the world watching … a week, two weeks of anticipation of what the United States is gonna do. For him to walk out – I’m not trying to be trivial here – in a light suit, light tan suit, saying that first he wants to talk about what most Americans care about the revision of second quarter numbers on the economy. This is a week after Jim Foley was beheaded and he’s trying to act like real Americans care about the economy, not about ISIS and not about terrorism. And then he goes on to say he has no strategy.”

King said Obama’s comments and actions showed “foreign policy was not a major issue” for President Obama.

Note, this isn’t a joke. Kaczynski posted the clip of King’s remarks, which seem to be entirely sincere.

An actual member of Congress – the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s panel on counter-terrorism, no less – believes there’s “no way” to “excuse what the president did.” And in this case, what the president did was put on a tan suit.

I especially like the part in which King says he’s “not trying to be trivial here.” No, of course not. Perish the thought. All he’s doing is launching a tirade about the color of the president’s tan suit. Why would anyone think that’s trivial?

Also note, King was outraged by Obama’s suggestion that the economy is “what most Americans care about.” The nerve!

As for “he has no strategy,” this is pretty cheap rhetoric given the context of what the president actually said, as the congressman probably realizes.

As for the suit, I can appreciate why it raised eyebrows, at least a little. When I watched the press conference, I noticed the suit, too, and thought to myself, “Huh, that’s different.”

But then the press conference started in earnest and it was time to focus on substance. That is, unless you’re a congressman who believes there’s just no “excuse what the president did” when he put on the suit.

Postscript: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at the start of today’s briefing that the president  ”feels pretty good” about his fashion choice, adding, “The president stands squarely behind his decision he made yesterday to wear his summer suit.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 29, 2014

August 30, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Steve King | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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