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“Rights Not Safeguarded Can Be Eroded Or Lost”: Nation’s Voting Rights Laws Headed In Wrong Direction

One of the most painful scenes in Ava DuVernay’s film, Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr.’s protest marches in Selma, Ala., shows nurse Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey, being turned away from registering to vote because she can’t name the state’s 67 county judges. Such ploys to block black people from voting were used in the South even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They ensured that unequal laws and systems endured, since elected officials were answerable only to the whites who had elected them. It took the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to make that civil right binding. Yet today that victory that legions of volunteers fought for is under attack.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Texas law to require voters to show photo ID cards. The law had been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and struck down by a federal judge who said 600,000 registered voters in Texas had no government-issued ID, and that African-Americans were thrice as likely as whites to not have one. But the law was upheld by a federal Court of Appeals. Texas found ammunition in a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, striking down a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal approval before changing voting procedures. Various states have responded with new voting restrictions.

“If you live in rural Mississippi, and you have no license, you have no ID,” says Patti Miller, who just completed a documentary about the role of Iowans in the 1964 Freedom Summer. She noted that Hispanics in urban areas face the same problem.

Iowans Return to Freedom Summer, depicts five young white people, including Miller, who grew up in overwhelmingly white Iowa and answered a call from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to aid desegregation efforts in Mississippi. They were among 700 college students from around the country who flocked to Mississippi to help register black voters, teach black children in Freedom Schools and organize community centers. The experiences were life changing.

“I’m not sure if that sense of purpose has happened since,” reflected Miller at a preview of her film Monday. “It affects everything you do, your attitudes and outlook on life.”

For Marcia Moore, one of the Freedom Summer volunteers, seeing how hard Mississippi fought to keep black people down brought tough reckonings about her own country. Richard Beymer (who subsequently played Tony in West Side Story) found that summer a joyful time, even though “we were at war, in a sense.” He lived with seven other civil rights workers in a rented house without indoor toilet or shower, all resolute about confronting racism. Stephen L. Smith never fully got over a severe beating at the hands of Mississippi police. Yet he remained politically active, becoming the first American to burn his draft card. All reflect on their experiences in Miller’s film.

There were disagreements within SNCC about including white students, Miller recalls. “A lot felt it should be only blacks. But whenever white people were involved, the press covered it.”

The white students’ activism also “lit a fire” that prompted black people to start protesting, observes Lenray Gandy, a black Mississippi native, in Miller’s film. The movie depicts a Mississippi that didn’t just force blacks and whites to use separate drinking fountains and waiting rooms, but where black people weren’t allowed to try on shoes at the shoe store. A black man couldn’t walk down a street where a white woman was walking. Blacks couldn’t sit in the front of a bus and were expected to keep their eyes downcast when addressing whites.

But the deprivation that ensured all the others stayed in place was being unable to vote. Registrars would use a 95-question test to reject prospective black voters, according to Shel Stromquist, now a professor emeritus from the University of Iowa who took part in Freedom Summer and appears in the film.

Miller formed the Keeping History Alive Foundation because, as the saying goes, those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But remembering may not be the problem for politicians enacting current voting restrictions. More likely they see some political advantage to suppressing the minority vote. So the question is whether fair-minded Americans will insist that Congress pass legislative fixes to ensure all qualified Americans have their voices heard.

Miller will forever be affected by the power of committed black and white people living, cooking, eating, working and risking their lives together. She went on to work with King’s organization in Chicago. So it’s disheartening for her to visit college campuses these days and see black and white students self-segregate in dining halls.

It’s easy to get complacent about battles won long ago. But rights not safeguarded can be eroded or lost. Celebrating King’s birthday, as we do this week, shouldn’t just mean reflecting on how far we’ve come, but on where we’re going, and what it will take to stay on track.

 

By: Rekha Basu, The National Memo, January 21, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Rancid Red Meat”: For Republicans, Muslims Will Be The Gays of 2016

Now that Republicans realize that the fight over gay marriage is over, they’re pivoting back to the old reliable: Muslims. It’s true that Muslim-bashing among Republicans is hardly new, but I think that as 2016 approaches we’re going to see even more of it as candidates try to outflank one another.

The latest example was LouisianaGovernor’s Bobby Jindal’s speech on Monday in London. Jindal told the audience that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where Muslims have in essence carved out Islamic “autonomous” zones that are ruled by Koranic law and where non-Muslims fear to tread. His point, of course, was to warn Americans that Muslims could try the same thing in the United States.

Now if that concept sounds familiar it’s because last week Fox News served up this same rancid red meat to its viewers. Some Fox News anchors claimed these so-called “no-go zones” existed in parts of France. And Fox News’ terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson even went as far as to say that Birmingham, England, the nation’s second biggest city with more than one million people, was a “totally Muslim city where non-Muslims don’t go in.

The backlash to these comments was swift. Even British Prime Minster David Cameron responded, “When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools Day. This guy is clearly a complete idiot.”

Fox News stirring up fear of Muslims is nothing new. In fact, in my view it’s part of Fox’s business model since its viewers hold the most negative views of Muslims of any cable news audience. Fox is simply giving their viewers what they want to see.

But a few days ago, Fox did something truly shocking. They apologized for making the claims about Muslim-controlled “no-go zones” in Europe. In fact, they apologized not once, but four times, and admitted unequivocally that these “no-go zones” don’t even exist.

Yet even though the Fox retractions occurred days before Jindal delivered his speech, that didn’t stop him from asserting the same baseless claims. After his speech, Jindal was asked by a CNN reporter for specifics on where exactly these “no-go zones “are located. Jindal, in what looked almost like a sketch from Saturday Night Live, hemmed and hawed, finally responding: “I think your viewers know.

For those unfamiliar with Jindal, he’s no Louie Gohmert. He’s an Ivy League graduate and a Rhodes scholar. Jindal’s remarks were not a mistake, but rather part of a calculated strategy to garner support from more conservative Republicans for an expected2016 presidential run.

Now, in the past, candidates trying to garner support from these right wing voters could use opposition to gay marriage to curry favor. As conservative James Kirchick noted in an article he penned for The Wall Street Journal in 2008, the Republican Party has a long history of its candidates using not just opposition to gay marriage, but also anti-gay rhetoric to attract support from the GOP Base. Kirchick went on to urge Republicans to “kiss gay-bashing goodbye.

But we still saw this bigotry in the 2012 race. For example, Rick Perry ran a campaign commercial that said you know “there’s something wrong with this country when gays can openly serve in the military.

Polls, however, now show a majority of Americans support gay marriage. And even the Mike Huckabees of the GOP would have to admit that after the Supreme Court announced Friday that it is considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this term, gay marriage will likely soon be the law of the land. Bottom line: gay marriage will probably be dead as an issue capable of rallying conservative voters.

So what do you do if you are a Republican candidate seeking conservative votes? Simple. Bash Muslims. We are truly an easy target. First, Muslims are a small percentage of our nation’s population at approximately 1 to 2 percent. Second, there are horrible Muslims who do commit terror in the name of our faith, which does offer cover for anti-Muslim bigotry. Third, we still don’t have many allies outside of our community that stand with us.

Sure, we have some interfaith supporters. But when ant-gay comments are made, like in the case of “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Roberson in 2013, the response by the left was swift and united. But with anti-Muslim bigotry, we don’t see that. We see silence from many on the left, including from most Democratic elected officials. And worse, we see some outright anti-Muslim fear mongering by so-called liberals like Bill Maher.

If I’m right, what can we expect to see as the 2016 presidential race heats up? More speeches like Jindal’s designed to stir up fear with no factual support. His remarks were applauded by conservative Larry Kudlow in The National Review.

Even more comments like the ones recently made by Oklahoma State Representative John Bennett that Muslims are a “cancer” that must be cut of our country and that Muslim-Americans are not loyal to the United States but to the “constitution of Islam.” Bennett received a standing ovation from the conservative audience that heard these remarks, and the Oklahoma GOP Chair even backed him up.

And possibly even more comments like the one made by newly sworn in member of Congress Jody Hice who stated that Islam is not a religion and doesn’t deserve First Amendment protection. Was there any backlash from GOP leaders to this remarks? Nope, in fact people like Red States’ Erick Erickson even spoke at one of his fundraisers and wrote he was “proud to support” Hice.

This is a far cry from the 2008 presidential race when John McCain countered anti-Muslim remarks made by a supporter at one of his campaign rallies.

My hope is that I’m wrong. But after seeing close to a thousand people over the weekend protesting a Muslim-American event in Texas that was ironically organized to counter extremism, I’m not so optimistic.

The more conservative parts of the GOP base tend to vote in higher numbers in the primaries. So don’t’ be surprised when you see Republican candidates trying to get their attention with this cut of red meat.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, January 21, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Muslims, No Go Zones | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“With Or Without You”: Obama Leaves Obstinate GOP Behind With State Of The Union

With his penultimate State of the Union address, President Obama gave the speech that Democrats have always wanted him to give.

After six years of hedges and qualification, the president finally offered a confident, full-throated defense of his economic record, and of his progressive vision of government.

“Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis,” the president declared. “More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”

“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years, and for decades to come,” Obama said. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

The president went on to lay out a program of “middle-class economics,” featuring tax cuts for working families, the expansion of paid sick leave, free community college, new infrastructure spending, and a higher minimum wage. He also highlighted his administration’s work on several issues close to the hearts of liberals, such as combating climate change, protecting the rights of LGBT people around the world, closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, defending the right to vote, and safeguarding elections from “dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

While nothing the president proposed would have the impact of historically significant Obama-era achievements like the Affordable Care Act or the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, most of his proposals poll extremely well with the American public. And Obama practically dared Republicans to stand in their way.

“These policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns,” Obama said. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.”

The president’s speech featured few surprises (in fact, the White House released a full transcript of Obama’s remarks before he even entered the House chamber). But the official Republican response from newly elected senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) contained even fewer. Her sunny speech had almost nothing to do with what Obama proposed; in fact, just seconds in, she flatly acknowleged that “rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities.”

Apparently, Republicans still think that those priorities include building the Keystone XL pipeline — which Ernst labeled the “Keystone jobs bill,” although it will create just 35 permanent positions — cutting taxes and spending, repealing the health care reform law, and little else.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” Ernst lamented. “It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”

That statement betrays Republicans’ central political problem in 2015. For years, they have claimed that President Obama’s policies would lead to disaster. But now, as the GOP takes full control of Congress, those “failed policies” have resulted in a booming economy — an irony that the president noted in his address.

“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” Obama said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”

Meanwhile, the GOP had no response except for  the same plans that it pitched at the depth of the recession.

It’s no secret that Republicans will dismiss most of the proposals that President Obama put forth during his speech. But the rest of the nation might not follow suit. According to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of Americans are happy with the state of the economy  — an 11-year high — and 49 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the issue. Democrats’ economic message is starting to resonate, and Republicans still don’t have a serious plan of their own.

If they don’t find one shortly, they risk seeing the national debate leave them behind just as they hope to win the White House in 2016.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 21, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Economy, GOP, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Everybody Over 40 Has A Little Back Pain”: Watch Out, Grandpa! Republicans Are Coming For Your Social Security

Hey, Rand Paul, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?

Last week, the junior senator from Kentucky mocked people on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD), suggesting their ailments are not worthy:

What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club… Who doesn’t get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts. Everybody over 40 has a little back pain. [Huffington Post]

This is just the prelude to the GOP’s plan to roll back the whole of Social Security. Paul’s remarks are part of a PR campaign to portray the program as riddled with lazy deadbeats and cheats.

Don’t believe me? Earlier this month, the Republican Congress adopted a rule change regarding the disability portion of Social Security. It has occasionally run short of money, which last happened in 1994 and will happen again in late 2016. Typically, the disability side is topped up with money from the (much larger) general Social Security funds. But Republicans have changed the rules to prevent this, which means disability payments will be cut by a fifth when the money runs out.

Now, they’re beginning to argue this is a great time to “reform” the system as a whole:

One of the co-sponsors of the rule change, Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), said that his intention was to “force us to look for a long-term solution” to the disability program. But the rule itself says it will allow a revenue transfer if the “overall health” of Social Security, encompassing both the retirement and disability programs, is improved. That’s what Democrats are warning about, but some conservative analysts who have consulted with House staffers are also hoping that the GOP uses the threat of benefits cuts to go big. [Talking Points Memo]

If you examine the history of conservative animosity towards Social Security, as Dylan Scott does in a great piece, the long game here is obvious. Conservatives hated the program when it started, tried to abolish it for a generation, rolled it back slightly when it became firmly politically entrenched, and tried to privatize it in the Bush years. Conservative activists have been plotting this move for years.

The political entrenchment of Social Security explains the slyness of their tactics today. Social Security is one of the most popular programs in the country, and attempting to privatize it was a political disaster for Bush. Thus, passing bill after bill scrapping the program altogether a la ObamaCare would be committing political suicide. Much better to use a manufactured funding crisis to force a complicated political bargain that most people don’t understand. Better still to maneuver Democrats into accepting cuts, and then blame them for it and run against them on the issue.

Let’s look at the policy. Are conservatives right about SSDI being riddled with fraud, as an episode of This American Life squirmily argued two years ago? They are not. As a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis shows, the increase in disability payments is mainly due to demographic factors. There is little fraud in the program (in reality, a large majority of applicants are rejected). The program doesn’t pay out much per beneficiary. And the general Social Security fund can top up the disability fund with only a tiny overall effect.

How about Social Security in general? Contrary to Republican anti-tax zealotry, the problem with Social Security is that it is not nearly generous enough. American retirement security used to rest on pensions, the 401(k) system, and Social Security. The first of those is almost dead, the second has been an utter failure, and the third is simply not big enough to provide a genuine retirement for most people. Boosting the program substantially would be simple and good policy.

Many years ago, it was widely accepted that as our country got richer, we could afford to work less as a whole. Disabled people could be kept out of poverty, and old people could retire. But conservatives are increasingly abandoning this idea. There is no reason Paul’s logic about the disabled couldn’t be applied to retirees, too. Can your grandma stack shelves at Walmart? Maybe she should, the lazy parasite.

In reality, we can easily afford to boost Social Security. Indeed, we can easily afford to eliminate poverty altogether. That we don’t is a political choice, nothing more.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 20, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Rand Paul, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican Fear Campaign Running Out Of Steam”: Obama Dares GOP To Help The Middle Class In His State Of The Union

Can you remember a time when the political zeitgeist has ping-ponged the way ours has in just two months? The day after last November’s election, Barack Obama was finished. Now, two positive jobs reports and a 60-odd-cent-per-gallon drop in gasoline prices later, he’s the president again. And the Republicans have just taken power and have run Congress for only two weeks, but suddenly they’re kind of on the defensive.

Of course this isn’t to say that Obama is going to get a single plank of the ambitious agenda he laid out in the State of the Union Address through Congress. The Republicans still hold those cards.

But what’s happened in the last couple of months, and what Obama seized effectively with this speech, is this. The mood has changed. The public is open to ideas it wasn’t open to a year ago; even two months ago.

Politics in this country is really about only one thing at a time, and that one thing favors one party or the other. In 1981 and for a few years thereafter, it was about how oppressive the federal government was. Advantage Republicans. For a short time in the late 1980s, it was about how we’d vanquished the Soviet Union (and won a little side war). Advantage Republicans.

For a while in the 1990s, it was about building a future-oriented economy. Advantage Democrats. After 9/11, it was about security. Advantage Republicans. And so on. It’s a little more complicated than this, because thrown into these cycles we have the scandals and the social changes that all have some impact on how people think about things, but basically, this is how American politics rolls: We go through these eras, and the eras make the majority of people decide that one party or the other is better equipped to do something about the challenges.

And now, we seem to be—seem to be—entering an era in which the chief debate is going to be about expanding prosperity downward from the people who’ve enjoyed the lion’s share of the prosperity of the last 30 years. Not positive about that. But that’s the smell. Look at all those minimum-wage initiatives that passed on ballots last November, passed even by a comparatively conservative electorate. Look at Mitt Romney talking empathetically in recent days about the people he didn’t seem to care much about in 2012. Something has turned.

Obama has helped turn it—with a few speeches over the years, and certainly with some of his policies, like health care, which he defended in an impressively in-your-face way in this speech. But even a president can’t turn it himself. He needs luck. And finally he’s had some—the gas prices, the energy explosion, the jobs reports, all of them culminating in a sunnier public mood.

All that adds up to an atmosphere in which a majority of Americans are finally starting to add two and two and get four. The Republicans didn’t give them much. The Great Recession, most notably. Obama, to most of them, still hasn’t given them all that much either, but at least we’re out of that mess and things are finally looking up.

And when things are looking up, people are less anxious, and they can start thinking about things like free community college. In lousy economic times, free community college sounds to your average person like a bunch of airy-fairy liberal nonsense. Like something they’re going to be stuck paying for. In better economic times, it sounds to your average person like a not-half-bad idea, and something they or someone they know might even benefit from.

It’s all public psychology. We liberals have a hard time accepting this. That’s because of Keynes. Keynes, see, has taught us the concept of counter-cyclical investment: that when the economy is in dire straits, that is exactly when the government should be spending a boatload of money. It makes economic sense, to people who read a lot. But to average people, it doesn’t make any common sense. Common sense tells average people that when the economy is in dire straits, you tighten your belt and spend less. This is right for a family, but wrong for a government, which is the opposite of a family, economically speaking. And Lord did it infuriate liberals when Obama himself played into it. He gave these speeches—what, 2010, maybe—when he likened the government to a family sitting around the kitchen table deciding what expenses it needed to cut out.

No! Wrong, wrong, wrong, in economic terms. But in real-life political terms, he was right at least insofar as you can’t get people to think about longer-term economic goals when they’re out of a job, or underemployed. But once that’s turned, you can.

That is what’s turning now—not turned, but turning. And that is what is about to make our political conversation be about this new one thing: sharing the prosperity. The speech was not a great speech, a speech for the ages; but it did understand that, and it did tap into that. People are now willing to start thinking about longer-term economic goals. A quickie CNN poll found that the speech was extremely well-received: 51 percent very positive, 30 percent somewhat positive, only 18 percent negative.

That really should worry Republicans, no matter how many seats they have in Congress. Our politics is becoming about one big thing on which the Republicans have nothing to say. Actually, they do have something to say, and it’s “No!” They looked ridiculous, sitting on their hands, refusing to applaud simple and obvious things that have 60, 65 percent public support. I have a feeling more such moments await them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 21, 2015

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Economy, Middle Class, Republicans, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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