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“One More Barrier To Voting”: Scott Walker Could Win Thanks To Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law

On September 12, Wisconsin voting-rights groups began to scramble when the Seventh Circuit Court upheld the state’s voter ID law, one of the strictest in the country. By the end of September, the same court had narrowly declined to re-hear the case en bancgiving voters and election officials mere weeks before the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election to grapple with the law. Unless the Supreme Court overturns the decision in response to an emergency appeal filed Thursday by the ACLU, Wisconsin voters will have to show identification from a list of approved types at the November election. It’s hard to say how many people might be disenfranchised by the law, but in such a tight election, where Republican incumbent Scott Walker is neck-and-neck with Democrat Mary Burke, it doesn’t take many votes to swing the results.

In April, when District court judge Lynn Adelman issued an injunction against the law, he estimated that 300,000 registered voters across the state lack the IDs they need to vote. The judge arrived at that estimate by comparing the testimony of two witnesses, a statistical marketing consultant, Leland Beatty, and a professor at the University of Georgia, M.V. Hood III. Beatty and Hood both crunched through the DMV records with registered voter files to determine how many registered voters in the state lack either a driver’s license or state ID card, the two most common forms of identification. Using different methodologies, the two men produced different estimates. Hood said between 4.9 percent (167,351) and 10.9 percent (368,824) of registered voters lacked ID, while Beatty estimated 9.4 percent (317,735).

Even Hood’s low-end estimate of 167,351 disenfranchised voters is enough voters to swing a tight election. Walker won in 2010 by only 124,638 votes. According to the Huffington Post Pollster, Walker is currently leading Burke 48.3 to 46.3.

Walker’s supporters are more likely than Burke’s to show up at the polls in the first place. According to Marquette University’s latest polls, Walker leads by a five-point margin among those who say they are certain to vote. But, among those who aren’t as certain they’ll make it to the polls, Burke leads by an eleven-point margin. This gap is common in midterm elections, since Republican votersusually white, wealthy, and olderhave more time and resources to make it to polling stations for the elections that get less hype. The voter ID law might deepen this disparity, since it creates one more barrier to vote for those already on the fence.

The clock is ticking for voting rights groups to organize in response to the law. Mike Wilder from Wisconsin Voices said that his group began educating voters and helping them procure identification a few days after the law was upheld in mid-September. But it’s not just the voters without identification in need of education. The majority of voters who have the necessary ID need to be reminded to bring it to the polls. A recent Marquette University poll found that 20 percent of voters didn’t know they needed their IDs to vote.

 

By: Claire Groden, The New Republic, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It Makes You Wonder”: George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson And The Kickstarted Defense; You Call This Justice?

I learned a lot of shocking things reporting “Zimmerman Family Values” for the new issue of GQ. But one really creeped up on me. From nearly the second the Florida neighborhood watchman shot to death 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, George and his family absolutely believed that a superstar attorney was his only chance to not wind up in prison forever. So it was inevitable that when Zimmerman was arrested and charged with murder, he had only one thing on his mind: how to pay for a private criminal defense lawyer. Knowing that his phone calls were being recorded while he was in jail pending bond (for a grand total of seven weeks) Zimmerman and his family spoke in code. They were all very grateful for the “support from SH”.

You didn’t need a crypto-analyst to figure out that “SH” was Sean Hannity. In July 2012, the Miami Herald reported that the anchor was believed to be financially backing Zimmerman’s defense.

It was kind of true. But Hannity, himself, did not shell out. He got a bunch of other people to pony up. On his nightly TV show, the Fox News man would furrow his brow and rant about what would become of America if we lost the right to shoot and kill people who scare us. Then Hannity would, helpfully, mention TheRealGeorge Zimmerman.com, a website that the real George Zimmerman had set up after he shot Trayvon Martin to death. The site, helpfully, accepted PayPal.

Nearly half a million dollars double-clicked right in.

It makes you wonder: does seeming less guilty on TV make a killer seem less guilty in court? Does an expensive attorney help get him off, too?

The answer appears to be yes and yes.

A 2012 study showed that if a case before the US supreme court is covered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, the court’s decision is twice as likely to mimic public opinion than if it is not reported on by those newspapers.

In 2011, a review by the US justice department showed that defendants represented by court-appointed lawyers are more likely to be convicted and/or receive longer prison sentences than those represented by private attorneys.

The reasons for this slaying of the US constitution’s sixth and 14th amendments (right to legal counsel and right to due process) is rather obvious. In the last 50 years (since the supreme court unanimously reaffirmed defendant rights), the US incarceration rate has exploded more than 700%, while public defender budgets have plummeted about 600%. Today, the average amount of time a public defender spends with a client is 59 minutes in Atlanta, 32 minutes in Detroit and seven minutes in New Orleans. No surprise it’s often a “meet ’em and plead ’em” process. More than 90% of criminal defense cases are now plea-bargained. Those that go to trial – well, no promises. In the last 25 years, at least 2,000 people have been wrongly convicted and collectively served more than 10,000 years in prison.

So what’s an accused bad guy supposed to do? Follow George Zimmerman’s lead!

Of course, not every accused felon can get Sean Hannity as his personal cheerleader/rainmaker. But anyone accused of anything can crowd-source and, uh, raise public awareness. Right now there are more than 4,000 legal defense projects seeking your money on GoFundMe.com. MaryJane, in Lansing, Michigan, is apparently fighting criminal cannabis growing charges. She says she needs weed because she has Lupus. She posts a photo of herself out-and-proud wearing a marijuana leaf necklace. She has raised $1,450. Gordon Smith, of Delmar, Delaware says that he has been falsely accused of domestic violence 24 times. He offers a video – “False Allegation Awareness: The Gordon Smith Story” – and he has raised $290. Darren Wilson, of St Charles, Missouri, has done a lot better. He has raised $433,000 … because maybe some day he’ll be charged with something.

Wilson, of course, is the police officer who shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr, whose own family’s GoFundMe site has raised $339,000. As officer Wilson’s (currently inactive) fundraising sites promised: “All proceeds will be sent directly to Darren Wilson and his family for any financial needs they may have including legal fees.”

If he ever has legal fees. Right now, all Darren Wilson has is a lot of money because he killed someone.

What did George Zimmerman spend his crowd-sourced payday on? A bail bond was $95,000, living expenses took $62,000, security ate up $56,000, and GPS monitoring (he had to wear an ankle bracelet pending trial) along with pizza for interns gobbled up $3,200. Zimmerman’s attorneys did get $76,000.

Zimmerman still owes his lawyers another $2m. And he got acquitted in a state that convicts accused people nearly 90% of the time.

Do he and Wilson really deserve a million-dollar defense team any more than MaryJane and Gordon need whatever legal representation a grand total of $1,740 can buy?

Or is crowd-sourced funding just the real public defender in a time of recession, social media and criminal justice without much justice?

If you’re accused of a crime, it clearly pays to do get a lot of attention committing it.

 

By: Amanda Robb, The Guardian, October 1, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Do The Math”: 30,000 Yearly Gun Deaths Is A Health Epidemic

It was back in 1996 that Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR) inserted language into the 1997 budget that prohibited gun research funded by the CDC. And from that time forward, physicians and public health researchers have been a favorite target of the NRA. The most public example of this attempt to demonize the notion that guns constitute a health risk is, of course, the Florida law (“Docs versus Glocks”) which potentially criminalizes physicians who ask patients about guns. Yet another instance in which gun “rights” were used to distort the role and value of physicians was the successful attempt by Rand Paul, the self-certified opthalmologist from Kentucky, to block or at least temporarily derail the appointment of Vivek Murthy to be head of the CDC.

Rand’s opposition to Murthy’s nomination was nothing except an attempt to pander to a receptive audience, i.e., hardcore NRA members and other right-wing folks, whose support he will surely need if and when he announces a bid for the White House in 2016. I actually have no issue with Paul or any other political candidate saying whatever has to be said to get his ducks lined up in the water in order to try and latch onto the gold ring. But when Rand politicizes the importance and value of public health as regards guns or anything else, he’s stepped across a line that ordinarily demarcates stupidity from common sense.

Last week the first case of someone infected with Ebola was confirmed. It turned out to be a man who came into contact with an Ebola patient in his native country of Liberia shortly before coming to the United States. And while he evidently told hospital staff in Texas that he had recently been in an infected zone, the hospital in Dallas mistakenly released him back into the general population and God knows how many individuals may have come into contact with this poor guy before he was properly diagnosed.

The challenge now facing Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is to identify every person with whom this patient may have had contact, get them isolated and tested and hope that the disease hasn’t spread. But I’ll tell you this: If there’s even the slightest hint that the Ebola virus might appear in Dallas or elsewhere, guess which agency the entire American population will expect to step in? It won’t be the NRA, that’s for sure. Despite the fact that the penultimate guardians of the 2nd Amendment, along with Rand Paul, claim to know what doctors should and shouldn’t do, the burden of dealing with Ebola will fall right where it should — on public health researchers and the CDC.

I’m not saying that gun violence is as much a threat to public health as Ebola. In roughly a month, the WHO estimates that the “epidemic” has killed more than 3,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Representatives from more than twenty countries are now meeting in London to figure out how to get more medical aid and resources to contain the deadly spread. In Sierra Leone there are five new cases reported every hour of every day.

Hey, wait a minute. The Ebola mortality rate is estimated at 50 percent, which means that 30 people will die each day from the virus in Sierra Leone, which is about one-third of all the cases that are being reported throughout West Africa at this time. Do the arithmetic, as Bill Clinton said, and this adds up to 30,000+ Ebola victims in West Africa over a full year. Isn’t that roughly the same number of people who die from gun violence each year in the United States?

But let’s not forget that the CDC isn’t allowed to figure out what to do about gun violence and if it were up to the NRA, every state would follow Florida’s lead in gagging doctors who want to talk to their patients about guns. If 30,000 Ebola deaths in Africa constitutes an epidemic, what do you call 30,000 gun deaths which have occurred every year in America for the past twenty years?

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fire Next Time”: Why Threats Against Obama Speak Volumes On Race In America

Reading details of the Secret Service’s failure to protect the president, I was jolted by a sudden premonition. Our country is once again risking “the fire next time.” James Baldwin’s dreadful prophecy—a phrase he borrowed from an old Negro spiritual—was published in 1963 when the civil rights movement was approaching its climactic triumph. Yet the novelist’s resonant warning came true a few years later. Cities across America were in flames. This is not a prediction of what is coming, but my fear. We should talk candidly about this risk before it is too late.

Let me be explicit about what I imagine might occur. If something bad should happen to hurt President Obama or his family, the “fire” could be ignited again by people’s rage and sorrow. Some will object that my warning is inflammatory, but I see silence as a greater danger.

The basic fact is this: there are demented Americans who do want to harm the president and have repeatedly threatened his life. Nobody knows how many or how dangerous they might be. Threats are a standard circumstance for the presidency, but the alarming difference is that threats against Barack Obama have been three times higher than for his predecessors, according to The Washington Post, which first revealed the Secret Service lapses. The explanation is obvious. This president is black, so is his family.

“Michelle Obama has spoken publicly about fearing for her family’s safety since her husband became the nation’s first black president,” Post reporter Carol Leonnig wrote. “Her concerns are well-founded. President Obama has faced three times as many threats as his predecessors, according to people briefed on the Secret Service’s threat assessment.”

After the Post reported this elevated risk assessment, The New York Times was told by a Secret Service spokesman that the threats against Obama have subsequently subsided to more typical levels. Given recent episodes in which the agency withheld embarrassing facts, even from the president, it is hard to judge which estimate to trust.

My larger point is this: the country is again becoming a racial tinderbox. We have witnessed many warning signs in places like Ferguson, Missouri, where another white cop shot an unarmed black teenager. Politicians mostly look the other way, perhaps fearful of provoking stronger emotions. But some politicians have actively encouraged racist resentments. The political system is implicated in stoking social discontents, white and black, because it has been unwilling (or unable) to do anything about the economic distress. It feels as though the society is stymied too, people waiting sullenly for some triggering event that might express their pain and anger.

Specifically, I accuse the Republican Party of adroitly exploiting racial tensions in the age of Obama in order to mobilize its electoral base and gain political advantage. Black Americans know what I mean. They have endured such political tactics for many generations. Indeed, as black leaders told Peter Baker of The New York Times, many African-American citizens are suspicious of the Secret Service failures that exposed the black president to danger.

When Barack Obama was elected six years ago, I wrote a short editorial for The Nation, “This Proud Moment,” that celebrated his historic achievement and the country’s. “Racism will not disappear entirely,” it said, “but the Republican “Southern Strategy’ that marketed racism has been smashed.” That seemed true at the time, but now sounds foolishly premature.

The Republican Party has not given up on racism. It has developed new ways to play the “race card” without ever mentioning race. With Obama in the White House, the GOP does not need to run TV ads featuring “black hands” taking jobs from “white hands” or the one that shows Willie Horton, the black rapist. Obama’s own face on television is sufficient. It reminds hard-core supporters why they hate the man.

Instead of obvious race-baiting, the GOP plan was to demonize Barack Obama right from the start. He was portrayed as an alien being, a strange character and not truly an American. Maybe he was African like his absent Kenyan father. Where is the birth certificate? And he’s a socialist like those foreigners in Europe. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley revealed that Obama’s health care reform includes “death panels” that will decide when old people must die. The half-baked Donald Trump was invited to Republican forums to mock the black guy.

When the “birther” movement ran out of steam, the ideological accusations hardened in its place. Fox News and other TV talkers upped the ante. Obama wasn’t just a political issue. The black guy was a threat to America’s survival as a nation of free people. The “takers” were the lazy Americans (read: blacks on welfare) who lived off virtuous Republicans who are the “makers.”

Barack Obama was uniquely prepared to liberate politics from its racial taboos, and he had the courage to try. He had grown up biracial and at home in both cultures. He understood that he could not prevail if he became the “black candidate,” since that would inflame some voters and make the election about race. Obama adroitly avoided that pit—but perhaps did not anticipate that white Republicans would find ways to demonize anyway. He kept searching sincerely for compromise. They kept pinning inflammatory labels on him.

The clearest evidence that agitating racial malice was the Republican subtext for brutally disparaging Obama’s intelligence, character and loyalty was reflected in the behavior of their Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. On the eve of Obama’s first inauguration, McConnell informed fellow Republican senaors that there would be no working relationship with the Democratic president—none. The GOP would oppose everything and block every measure the White House proposed.

“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” said Senator George Voinivich of Ohio. “All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.” Vice President Joe Biden, who presided in the Senate, was taken aback by McConnell’s hard line. It crippled the Obama presidency, but also did great damage to the country. Biden heard from seven Republican senators who told him the same thing. They said, “Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything. We can’t let you succeed.”

This take-no-prisoners strategy does not by itself prove that McConnell was purposely agitating racial resentments but the fact that his leadership style was so stubborn and single-minded suggests that Republicans had committed to a strategy that would exploit the racial memory of white Southerners and other conservatives. McConnell was not himself racist when I knew him slightly in the early 1970s, when he was then a young staffer on Capitol Hill and an upfront liberal Republican, especially on civil rights. I expect his views on race are not changed.

But as a white Southerner, he cannot claim to be ignorant of what he was doing. With his hard-nosed strategy, McConnell was shamefully agitating old racial stereotypes, hoping to make the black guy a one-term president. He failed at that, but he still poisoned the political atmosphere for the country. I am not accusing the Republican Party and its leaders of plotting to harm the president physically. I am accusing them of deliberately inflaming racist attitudes that might inspire others to commit malicious acts by others. They deserve shame, however the elections turn out.

Even more shameful in my book, the Supreme Court and its right-wing majority have collaborated in this partisan effort, aiding and abetting the Republican party’s racial politics. The Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito are, measure by measure, destroying rights that citizens won in years of hard struggle. In the process, they are also destroying the Court’s honorable reputation.

The party of Lincoln moved south forty years ago and embraced the die-hard remnants of white supremacy. The country will not restore two-party representative democracy until the southern segs are once again overcome.

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, October 6, 2014

 

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Presidential Security, Racism, Secret Service | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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