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“A Serious And Accessible Right For All”: America Is A Democracy; So Why Do We Make It Hard For Certain People To Vote?

Since I first registered to vote on my 18th birthday, I haven’t missed voting in a single election that I can remember. My feat has been nothing short of a pain in the ass, given that I have moved 14 times in the 19 years since.

This week, I almost failed to vote for the first time: I had moved – again – in the gap between the board of elections deadline to change my address and the New York state primary election. I did try to update my voter registration online, but didn’t receive a confirmation. I was confused if I was eligible to vote where I now live, or at the last address where I had been registered.

We don’t have same-day registration here in New York, so I steeled myself against the guilt and decided not to bother. But the guilt set in anyway: I saw on Facebook how many of my friends had voted; I felt the ghosts of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather prepare to raise up from the grave and beat my black behind for giving up so easily when they’d fought much harder challenges – like the Klan – to exercise their right to vote.

So I went down to what should be my precinct (and will be, once the change of address takes effect). My name wasn’t on the rolls, but because I was already a registered voter, I was allowed to fill out a provisional ballot. It wasn’t an easy process to navigate, it took a lot of time, and my vote may not even be counted.

Most people like me don’t have hours to spend voting by provisional ballot, as I did on Tuesday. And by “people like me”, I mean those of us who are somewhat fringe and move often. According to Demos, “Almost 36.5 million US residents moved between 2011 and 2012,” and “low-income individuals were twice as likely to move as those above the poverty line.”

Voter transience has a huge demographic effect on the electorate. As the Pew Center on the States explains:

About one in eight Americans moved during the 2008 and 2010 election years … Some Americans – including those serving in the military, young people, and those living in communities affected by the economic downturn – are even more transient. For example, census and other data indicate that as many as one in four young Americans moves in a given year.

“Mobility is the primary driver of problems with the voter lists,” David Becker, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ election initiatives, told me. “And there’s not any question that young people, and people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, are much more likely to be mobile.”

The causes of voter mobility are varied, from Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, to economic marginalization and gentrification and beyond. The population of people who move often, particularly in-state or in-town for economic reasons, would benefit most from “portable registration”, in which states would allow residents to remain properly registered as long as they stay in the state and without officially updating their records with the board of elections. As it stands now, one in four Americans already mistakenly believes, for example, that if you update your address with the post office, your voter registration information has been updated. (It hasn’t.)

With voting, “the onus is on the voter to register, and re-register” with the government, explained Becker – unlike Social Security, in which the onus is on the government to track citizens. Technology exists to allow individual election boards to similarly track voters’ moves – even just syncing voter rolls with, say, a state’s motor vehicle registration or drivers license database would be more efficient and cheaper, according to the Electronic Information Registration Center (Eric).

But, as Jonathan Brater, the counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, pointed out, people who are more transient “tend not to be homeowners, to be poorer, and to be non-white” – and, since they don’t vote as often, there’s little political will to make it easier for them to do so.

And so, the chaos and confusion – and low voter turn-out – will continue.

Universal American suffrage feels precarious: only 11 states and the District of Columbia are members of Eric; the federal government is still fighting the states over who gets to vote when, much as it did half a century ago; and, worst of all, the federal judicial branch has eviscerated the executive branch’s greatest tool, the Voting Rights Act.

Does America really care about making voting a serious and accessible right for all? Given the obsessive focus on voter ID initiatives aimed at minority communities in the absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the myriad ways in which we make it difficult for the very young and the very old, the poor, the transient, those who served their time in our nation’s disgusting prison pipeline, the non-white, those who don’t speak perfect English and even members of the armed forces serving overseas (and their families) to vote, the answer, it seems, is no.

This nation, as much as we like to talk about it being a democracy, was at its inception as concerned with which residents it wanted to keep from participating in its democratic experiment as it was in the experiment at all. It is hard, when the average American moves every five years and has to reaffirm and defend their right to vote each time, to feel like very much has changed.

 

By: Steven Thrasher, The Guardian, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Neglecting Human Costs”: Harvard Business School’s Role In Widening Inequality

No institution is more responsible for educating the CEOs of American corporations than Harvard Business School – inculcating in them a set of ideas and principles that have resulted in a pay gap between CEOs and ordinary workers that’s gone from 20-to-1 fifty years ago to almost 300-to-1 today.

survey, released on September 6, of 1,947 Harvard Business School alumni showed them far more hopeful about the future competitiveness of American firms than about the future of American workers.

As the authors of the survey conclude, such a divergence is unsustainable. Without a large and growing middle class, Americans won’t have the purchasing power to keep U.S. corporations profitable, and global demand won’t fill the gap. Moreover, the widening gap eventually will lead to political and social instability. As the authors put it, “any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American.”

Unfortunately, the authors neglected to include a discussion about how Harvard Business School should change what it teaches future CEOs with regard to this “profound stake.” HBS has made some changes over the years in response to earlier crises, but has not gone nearly far enough with courses that critically examine the goals of the modern corporation and the role that top executives play in achieving them.

A half-century ago, CEOs typically managed companies for the benefit of all their stakeholders – not just shareholders, but also their employees, communities, and the nation as a whole.

“The job of management,” proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in a 1951 address, “is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly affected interest groups … stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large. Business managers are gaining professional status partly because they see in their work the basic responsibilities [to the public] that other professional men have long recognized as theirs.”

This view was a common view among chief executives of the time. Fortune magazine urged CEOs to become “industrial statesmen.” And to a large extent, that’s what they became.

For thirty years after World War II, as American corporations prospered, so did the American middle class. Wages rose and benefits increased. American companies and American citizens achieved a virtuous cycle of higher profits accompanied by more and better jobs.

But starting in the late 1970s, a new vision of the corporation and the role of CEOs emerged – prodded by corporate “raiders,” hostile takeovers, junk bonds, and leveraged buyouts. Shareholders began to predominate over other stakeholders. And CEOs began to view their primary role as driving up share prices. To do this, they had to cut costs – especially payrolls, which constituted their largest expense.

Corporate statesmen were replaced by something more like corporate butchers, with their nearly exclusive focus being to “cut out the fat” and “cut to the bone.”

In consequence, the compensation packages of CEOs and other top executives soared, as did share prices. But ordinary workers lost jobs and wages, and many communities were abandoned. Almost all the gains from growth went to the top.

The results were touted as being “efficient,” because resources were theoretically shifted to “higher and better uses,” to use the dry language of economics.

But the human costs of this transformation have been substantial, and the efficiency benefits have not been widely shared. Most workers today are no better off than they were thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Most are less economically secure.

So it would seem worthwhile for the faculty and students of Harvard Business School, as well as those at every other major business school in America, to assess this transformation, and ask whether maximizing shareholder value – a convenient goal now that so many CEOs are paid with stock options – continues to be the proper goal for the modern corporation.

Can an enterprise be truly successful in a society becoming ever more divided between a few highly successful people at the top and a far larger number who are not thriving?

For years, some of the nation’s most talented young people have flocked to Harvard Business School and other elite graduate schools of business in order to take up positions at the top rungs of American corporations, or on Wall Street, or management consulting.

Their educations represent a substantial social investment; and their intellectual and creative capacities, a precious national and global resource.

But given that so few in our society – or even in other advanced nations – have shared in the benefits of what our largest corporations and Wall Street entities have achieved, it must be asked whether the social return on such an investment has been worth it, and whether these graduates are making the most of their capacities in terms of their potential for improving human well-being.

These questions also merit careful examination at Harvard and other elite universities. If the answer is not a resounding yes, perhaps we should ask whether these investments and talents should be directed toward “higher and better” uses.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, September 13, 2014; This essay originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review’s blog.

September 14, 2014 Posted by | CEO'S, Corporations, Economic Inequality | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will The House GOP Stop The War on ISIS?”: If You Hamper The War Effort Of One Side, You Automatically Help That Of The Other

So here, with Congress now trying to figure out what to do about President Obama’s request for funding for the Syrian rebels, we have a glimpse, as rare in its way as an eclipse or a meteor shower, of two Republican pathologies colliding head-on. The first is their biological urge to oppose Obama on all matters. The second is the House Republicans’ chronic eleventh-hour melodramatics about keeping the government funded every September. I could throw in a third—John McCain’s ever-mounting and ever-more-obvious personal bitterness toward Obama—but we’ll lay him aside for today and focus on this joining of the two pathologies, which in the worst-case scenario threatens to derail Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign before it even starts.

Fast background: Congress has to pass a continuing resolution by September 30 or we’ll have a government shutdown again. Actually, in practical terms, it has to pass it within the next few days, because the Jewish holidays are coming and Congress is going on recess so members can go back home and campaign.

In an election year, no one on the GOP side wants to risk a government shutdown (check that—Ted Cruz still kind of does!). The two parties are mostly arguing about the Export-Import Bank, the newest piece of coal for the tea party fire, but that’s the kind of thing they usually agree at the last minute to extend for another six months.

But that was the pre-ISIS state of play. Then we all saw the beheading videos, and fighting the Islamic State became a matter of urgency. Obama had asked Congress for $500 million in aid to the Syrian rebels back in June, but Congress, in its laconic, congressional way, was originally going to wait until next year to get around to that. But now the administration wants that $500 million—which is actually part of a larger $2 billion request that would include other money for operations in Iraq and Ukraine—to be passed now. And it wants it included in the “CR,” as they call it.

As you probably know, the House Republicans met Thursday morning in the aftermath of Obama’s speech to figure out how to proceed. As you probably also know, they didn’t figure it out. Some support Obama’s request—John Boehner does, and the relevant committee chairmen. Others, of course, don’t trust Obama. Some want to keep the Syria money in the CR. Others want to pry it out and have two votes, one on government funding and one on the Syria dough.

What would be the point of this? There is no point. Long Island Republican Peter King said something in Politico about how “it sends a stronger message” if it’s a separate vote, which is nonsense. Can you picture Bashar al-Assad sitting in Damascus talking with a top aide and saying, “Well, I don’t think $500 million is a serious amount of money,” and the aide says, “Gee, boss, I don’t know, I mean, they passed it on a separate vote”?

Please. The only reason to have a separate vote is to diddle the White House around. “Assert congressional prerogative” is the more euphemistic way to put it, but I can guarantee you that if President Romney were asking for this money, the only thing Republicans would be debating would be how many times they could each vote yea. Similarly, the shocking demand among some Republicans for greater action—for ground troops, even—is equally hypocritical. If Obama had proposed ground troops, they’d be hyperventilating about how scandalous it was of him to want to send our troops into harm’s way. They’re just looking for a hook—the handiest excuse to oppose Obama that they can find.

Obviously, passing the $500 million in the quickest way possible is what sends the strongest “message,” as if anyone even cares about such messages. What matters is that the money gets authorized. If the House Republicans pull it out of the resolution and make it a free-standing vote that will happen later, then all that accomplishes is that it gives talk-radio land and the conservative Twittersphere a few days to badger Republicans about casting a pro-Obama vote (and right before an election). And if that happens, and the right finds some excuse to work itself into a lather over this, Boehner may just decide that the easiest thing is to send them home without voting on Syria at all.

In one of his more famous essays, “Pacifism and the War,” George Orwell wrote that pacifism “is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.” Orwell was writing of course about World War II, which I concede this is not (although I submit that it would be nice to see similar rhetorical restraint from the Republicans, who never tire of invoking Munich when they’re harping on Obama for not being tough enough). But if it isn’t World War II, neither is it the last Iraq War, which was completely unprovoked and based on lies. ISIS has killed Americans, and its threat to the region is clear and obvious. The Islamic State is evil by any measure. House Republicans may not trust the president and may prefer to see all this done differently. But without going as far as Orwell did (he later walked back the essay, after all) we can fairly ask if they want to have done nothing to check the Islamic State’s march.

I actually don’t think it will come to that. Even so, if I were a moderate Syrian Sunni, I wouldn’t be putting in orders for any tactical ballistic missiles just yet.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, ISIS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What A Deal!”: Koch Foundation Proposal To College; Teach Our Curriculum, Get Millions

In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.

The Charles Koch Foundation expressed a willingness to give Florida State an extra $105,000 to keep Benson — a self-described “libertarian anarchist” who asserts that every government function he’s studied “can be, has been, or is being produced better by the private sector” — in place.

“As we all know, there are no free lunches. Everything comes with costs,” Benson at the time wrote to economics department colleagues in an internal memorandum. “They want to expose students to what they believe are vital concepts about the benefits of the market and the dangers of government failure, and they want to support and mentor students who share their views. Therefore, they are trying to convince us to hire faculty who will provide that exposure and mentoring.”

Benson concluded, “If we are not willing to hire such faculty, they are not willing to fund us.”

Such details are contained in 16 pages of previously unpublished emails and memos obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the documents are seven years old — and don’t reflect the Charles Koch Foundation’s current relationship with Florida State University, university officials contend — they offer rare insight into how Koch’s philanthropic operation prods academics to preach a free market gospel in exchange for cash.

In 2012 alone, private foundations controlled by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch, combined to spread more than $12.7 million among 163 colleges and universities, with grants sometimes coming with strings attached, the Center for Public Integrity reported in March.

Florida State University ranked a distant second behind George Mason University of Virginia as a recipient of Charles Koch Foundation money. In a tax document filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the foundation described its Florida State University funding for 2012 as “general support.”

Some schools’ professors and students were aghast at the funding, arguing that such financial support wasn’t widely known on their campuses and could threaten schools’ academic freedoms and independence. Others argued that colleges and universities — long bastions of liberal academics — would be well served by more libertarian courses of study.

Separately, Charles Koch is the financial force behind a “curriculum hub” for high school teachers and college professors that criticizes government and promotes free-market economic principles. He’s also funded programs for public school students, and this year, his foundation donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund.

At Florida State University, Benson noted in a November 2007 memorandum that the Charles Koch Foundation would not just “give us money to hire anyone we want and fund any graduate student that we choose. There are constraints.”

Benson later added in the memo: “Koch cannot tell a university who to hire, but they are going to try to make sure, through contractual terms and monitoring, that people hired are [to] be consistent with ‘donor Intent.’”

A separate email from November 2007 indicates that Benson asked Charles Koch Foundation officials to review his correspondence with Florida State associates about potential Koch funding.

Trice Jacobson, a Charles Koch Foundation representative, did not respond to questions, although Benson and Florida State University spokesman Dennis Schnittker each confirmed that the emails and documents are authentic.

But Benson noted that the documents were meant for internal use and reflect the “early stages of discussion” well ahead of a 2008 funding agreement signed by the university and the foundation.

That agreement, initiated in 2009, has earned Florida State $1 million through April, according to the university. Until it was revised in 2013, an advisory board would consult with the Charles Koch Foundation to select faculty members funded by the foundation’s money.

Benson also said that while he continued serving as Florida State’s economics department chairman until 2012, Charles Koch Foundation money wasn’t a factor.

While the foundation initially discussed providing money to help fund Benson’s salary, “that idea was taken off the table very early in negotiations,” he said. “I continued as chair because I felt I could still make a valuable contribution to the department.”

The 2008 agreement between the school and the foundation nevertheless faced harsh criticism from some professors and students who argued it indeed gave the foundation too much power over university hiring decisions.

The school and foundation revised their agreement in 2013 “for clarity” and to emphasize the “fact that faculty hires would be consistent with departmental bylaws and university guidelines,” Schnittker said. “Our work with CKF [Charles Koch Foundation] has always upheld university standards.”

Those guidelines, spelled out in a Florida State University statement about the foundation from May, say the money will not compromise “academic integrity” or infringe on the “academic freedom of our faculty.”

Ralph Wilson, a mathematics doctoral student and member of FSU Progress Coalition, doesn’t buy it.

Florida State University “willfully and knowingly violated the integrity of FSU by accepting funding meant only to further Koch’s free-market agenda,” said Wilson, whose student group works to “combat the corporatization of higher education.”

The Charles Koch Foundation, meanwhile, “is using our universities solely to further their own agenda and plunder the very foundations of academic freedom,” Wilson said.

At the end of 2012, the foundation reported having almost $265.7 million in assets, according to its most recent tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

In his 2007 memo to colleagues, Benson acknowledged the school’s relationship with the foundation would invite blowback.

“I guess I am trying to say that this is not an effort to transform the whole department or our curriculum,” Benson wrote. “It is an effort to add to the department in order to offer some students some options that they may not feel they have now, and to create (or more accurately, expand) a cluster of faculty with overlapping interests.”

Benson also predicted entering into an agreement with the foundation carried some risk.

“There clearly is a danger in this, of course. For instance, we might be tempted to lower our standards in order to hire people they like,” Benson wrote, in advocating that the university not do so. “We cannot expect them to be willing to give us free reign to hire anyone we might want, however, so the question becomes, can we find faculty who meet our own standards but who are also acceptable to the funding sources?”

The Koch brothers are best known not for their educational efforts but for controlling a constellation of conservative, politically active nonprofit corporations.

For example, this election cycle alone, six nonprofits connected to the Kochs have combined to air about 44,000 television ads in U.S. Senate races through late August, with the ads typically promoting Republicans or criticizing Democrats.

 

By: Dave Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Education, Koch Brothers, Libertarians | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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