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“I Don’t Follow That Every Day”: Selma’s Senator Not Really Sure What’s Going On With That Voting Rights Stuff

It was just last weekend that people flooded into Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights marches there — marches that led to the Voting Rights Act.

Dozens of lawmakers made the trek, including Democrats who have been desperately seeking Republicans to help them pass legislation to restore the landmark 1965 law. The Supreme Court in July 2013 struck down a key provision that determined which states and localities with a history of suppressing minority voters had to get permission from the Justice Department to change their voting laws. The court ruled 5-4 that the section of the law was outdated, and left it to Congress to come up with a new formula for designating which regions of the country warrant special scrutiny.

Lawmakers have put forward a bill that offers a solution: It would update the formula to make it apply to states and jurisdictions with voting violations in the past 15 years. But supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, which prevented the measure from moving in the last Congress. This year, the House bill has a handful of GOP co-sponsors; the forthcoming Senate bill has none.

Asked Tuesday if he supports efforts to restore the law with historic roots in his state, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he’s not sure what that’s all about.

“I’m not on the Judiciary Committee. I don’t follow that every day,” said Shelby. “You probably need to talk to one of the people who would do the initial action there.”

Shelby said he didn’t read the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, but remembers seeing something about it in the newspaper. He said he doesn’t know anything about how members of Congress are proposing to fix the law.

“No, no, no,” said Shelby, when asked if he’s familiar with a bill aimed at restoring the law. “But my colleagues are. I deal with banking and appropriations … I don’t know what the court did. I know what they did — they struck down something. But let the Judiciary Committee look at that. I will listen to them.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced last year’s Voting Rights Act bill and held hearings on it, has been vocal in his quest to find a GOP co-sponsor. He plans to reintroduce his bill again soon.

“I have been working for the past six months to find a single Senate Republican to join me,” Leahy said Friday. “Restoring the Voting Rights Act should not be a partisan issue.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who teamed up with Leahy in sponsoring last year’s Voting Rights Act bill, told HuffPost last week that Republicans have given him different reasons for not supporting the bill. Some don’t think it’s necessary, he said, and others want to make broader to changes to the law.

But other Republicans may be more amenable, and the challenge for Democrats may simply be in singling them out and bringing them up to speed on the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for one, said Tuesday that he’s not opposed to restoring the Voting Rights Act.

“I supported the last one,” Flake said, referring to the last time Congress reauthorized the law itself. “It just hasn’t been on my radar screen. I’ll take a look.”


By: Jennifer Bendery, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 11, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Richard Shelby, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clinton; Not A Scandal, Yet. But…”: The Right Is Going To Be Gunning For Her From Day One

So by now we’ve read every possible interpretation of why Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to conduct her State Department business. There’s a lot that isn’t clear, and a lot we still don’t know. The main thing we know that is the original Times story that broke the news was really slipshod, staggeringly so for such a major story in America’s best newspaper. After I and others noted this, you could tell the Times acknowledged as much, because the paper’s Day Two follow-up didn’t really have any new news, just facts and dates that should have been in the original article to begin with. It took reporters the better part of the day Tuesday to figure out exactly which regulation the Times piece was accusing Clinton of potentially violating.

Even Mark Halperin, nobody’s idea of a Clintonista, slammed the original article. “There are things in the Times story that if they’re not flat out wrong are really misleading and unfair to the Clintons,” he said on Bloomberg TV.

The Times’ overheated sloppiness does not mean, however, that Clinton is totally in the clear here. I didn’t say that (“Clinton still has some questions to answer,” I wrote Tuesday). The citizens on whose behalf she was conducting business obviously have the right to hear her explain why she opted to use a private account. And we have the right to know whether the private server was more secure than State’s or less, and whether any classified information was electronically transported across this server. (You may think it implausible that a private server could have been more secure than State’s, but remember, Wikileaks didn’t seem to find the State systems too impenetrable, and it is after all the federal government we’re talking about.)

If the answers to any of these questions turns out to be alarming, this could become a legitimate scandal. And of course, depending on the content of the emails, we may well be in for another, related Clinton “scandal.” She doesn’t have to have said anything self-incriminating in these emails. The way the other side is out to get her, one ill-considered verb could end up being hung around her neck for days or weeks.

But even if this story were to end right here, or right after she does a press conference about it, there are a couple of lessons Clinton ought to take away from this.

First, she desperately needs someone on her staff to serve as a kind of average person-common sense barometer, and this person has to have the stature to be able to give it to her straight, and she has to listen to this person. In this case, back in early 2009, this person might have said something like, “I don’t know, Hillary. When an average person gets a job at First Federal Bank, he gets a First Federal email address, and that’s the account through which he conducts his banking business. Anything other than that is just gonna look weird to people.”

Or, last year, on the topic of her paid public appearances: “No, Hillary, not Goldman Sachs. Avocado growers, I see no harm. American Association of Sheetrock Manufacturers? Fine, if you insist. But not Goldman!”

Or: “You know, maybe it’s not the world’s best idea for you to put your name on that foundation. Cuz then whenever a question arises about its funding sources you can say ‘Hey, it’s his foundation, not mine!’”

Or, more proactively: “I was thinking, Hillary, with all these millions you’ve now made, and coming out of State, why not start your own foundation? Help women around the world with microcredit and all that. Can’t lose.”

Yes, she ought to be able to make these calls herself, but it seems clear that she can’t. They’re obviously not Bill’s strong suit either. So since neither of them seems able to do it, they need to hire some help. Or maybe assemble a panel of actual average Americans, and when one of these decisions looms, her staff can video-tape the panel reacting, and she can watch.

The second thing she needs to get is this: If she does become president, the right is going to be gunning for her from Day One, sniffing around for impeachable offenses from the second she takes the oath. This kind of secrecy and defensiveness will only add fuel to the fire—and it will put the media on the right’s side. It will make it look—not just to Hillary-haters, but to average people—like she’s hiding something even when she doesn’t have anything she needs to hide. We’ve seen that movie many times.

If she’s president, she has to break that habit. The White House operates under far more onerous disclosure and accountability rules than the cabinet departments do, and if she doesn’t follow those rules and then some, she’s just going be handing those out to get her the proverbial match.

Old habits die hard as they say. We seemed to have reason to think that the Hillary Clinton who urged the stonewalling of The Washington Post on Whitewater documents back in 1994 had gone away. We never heard any such stories in her Senate or State years until now. But that Hillary is still around, apparently. The Tweet she sent out late Wednesday night doesn’t quite equate to transparency.

The other old habits that won’t die easily are 1) right-wing loathing of her and desire to discredit and even destroy her, and 2) the mainstream media’s reflexive, uncritical, and panting promotion of every charge the right levels against her (remember, though this story came through the Times, it obviously originated in Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee’s investigative staff). Clinton’s old habit just feeds these others, and it’s not a dynamic she or the country will need if she’s in the White House.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 6, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dangling Corpses”: The Real Lynchings In SAE’s Oklahoma Backyard

The fraternity of blacks lynched in Oklahoma has 50 known members, including a man named Ben Dickerson who was spirited away from the jail in Norman just ahead of a mob, only to be seized and hanged a few miles away.

“That was fortunate,” a Norman newspaper said of the 1911 incident. “We would have had a lynching right under the shadow of the state university.”

This being the same University of Oklahoma where members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were recently filmed on a party bus chanting a racist ditty that included the lines “There will never be a n—-r SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he will never sign with me.”

One of the students who have since been expelled has said in a statement that “the song was taught to us.”

The obvious questions are: Who taught it to them, and where did those people learn it?

A Reddit posting suggests that the song was also being sung at SAE’s University of Texas chapter at least two months ago.

A photo taken of an SAE house on another Oklahoma campus shows that one of the members had a confederate flag hanging in his room for passers-by to see, as if the romanticism over the fraternity’s roots in the Antebellum South could be separated from the accompanying evils of slavery and racism.

The song they all should have been taught is one written by the son of an undersheriff said to have been part of a mob that lynched a black woman and her son from an Oklahoma bridge.

The woman was 35-year-old Laura Nelson, who was with her husband, 14-year-old son, and toddler daughter in their cabin outside Paden when a four-man posse arrived in search of a stolen cow on the night of May 4, 1911.

The lawmen found the butchered remnants of one, and the husband, Austin Nelson, later admitted that he had stolen the cow because his kids were hungry.

What happened next remains in some dispute. The most likely scenario is that one of the lawmen moved to disable a shotgun that was hanging on the wall. The teenage son, L.D. Nelson, would later say he thought the lawman intended to kill his father with the shotgun.

The son grabbed another weapon, a rifle. His mother stepped in to wrest it from him and it discharged. The bullet passed through the first lawman’s pant leg and chanced to fatally wound a 35-year-old deputy sheriff named George Loney.

The father was immediately arrested and charged with the theft of “a domestic animal, to wit one cow.” He pleaded guilty and was sent to state prison on a three-year term that might very well have saved his life.

The mother and the son were arrested the day after the shooting and charged with murder. They were denied bail and consigned to the county jail pending arraignment on May 25.

The lawyers for Laura Nelson and her son would later suggest that an intervening preliminary hearing had called into doubt whether the prosecution had enough corroborating evidence to make a prima facie case.

In another Oklahoma case, in Idabel, local white guys had remedied a weak prosecution performance in a preliminary hearing against a black man named Oscar Martin by simply staging a lynching right then and there in the courtroom.

In the Laura Nelson case, local white guys decided to take more pre-emptive action.

Late on the night of May 24, a mob stormed the jail. Laura Nelson had been allowed to care for her young daughter, Carrie, and the mother is said to have been clutching the girl as she and her son were gagged and dragged away.

Other Oklahoma mobs had been known to shoot as well as hang their victims. They sometimes lowered a victim before he was dead and burned him alive.

“When he was nearly dead, his body was taken down and a fire kindled under it,” a newspaper wrote of the 1906 lynching near Norman of a man named John Fullhood. “The fire soon consumed his body and all that was left was a pile of bones. A hole was dug and all the ashes and bones were gathered up and buried.”

The mob that carried off Laura Nelson and her son is said to have raped her, but it otherwise stuck with just a pair of hemp ropes. Mother and son—she with her arms hanging loose, he with hands bound—were found dangling dead from a bridge the next morning by a black youngster who happened by with, of all things, a cow.

The mother is said to have set little Carrie down by the foot of the bridge as she was being hustled to her execution. A neighbor apparently found the child and took her home.

As word spread, white people came to get a look. A photo of the crowd on the bridge shows numerous kids among those gawking at the dangling corpses.

The more prominent members of the lynch mob are said to have included Charles Guthrie, a real estate broker and local pol who was also an undersheriff at some point. He continued on with his life and had a son he named Woody the following year.

Woody Guthrie grew up to become America’s preeminent troubadour of social justice. He would suggest that part of what formed him was the shock of seeing a postcard reproduction of that photo of the lynching in which his father seems to have played a role. A song the younger Guthrie wrote about the lynching goes in part:

“You can stretch my neck on that old river bridge,
But don’t kill my baby and my son.”

Another song that Woody Guthrie wrote is the one that the boys of SAE should have been taught, along with so much more about fundamental fairness and justice.

The SAE boys showed that they are pretty good at learning lyrics, so they should not have any trouble with these:

“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”


By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, March 12, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Fraternities, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Era Of Party Polarization”: GOP’s “Constitution” Confusion; Why Tom Cotton’s Silly Iran Letter Matters

As readers of my colleague Jim Newell know by now, Tom Cotton, Arkansas’ new GOP senator, is already establishing himself as one of the leading doomsayers and fearmongers in Congress, which is no small feat. Indeed, by acting as the driving force behind a provocative open letter to the leaders of Iran and helpfully informing them that any deal reached with the Obama administration over their nuclear program will ultimately be subject to the Senate’s review, Cotton has already made himself a hero to the neoconservative right. In fairness, though, that wasn’t the hardest thing to do: Cotton’s earlier warnings of a (completely fictional) alliance between Mexico’s drug cartels and ISIS, as well as his rant in defense of Guantánamo Bay, had endeared them to him already.

But while Cotton is making the media rounds and hoovering-up donations from Bill Kristol and the military industrial complex, I think it’s worthwhile to revisit a discussion that was bouncing around the left-wing corners of the Internet last week. The topic was the inherent, structural flaws of the U.S.’s presidential system — which is rickety and slow in the best of times and downright unstable in the worst — and how they were becoming increasingly hard to ignore in our era of party discipline and polarization. Because even though I don’t believe Cotton and his letter represent a constitutional crisis as some of President Obama’s allies have suggested (and is certainly not an act of treason), I do consider the freshman senator’s recent behavior to be a good window into how the presidential system’s flaws can manifest in the real world.

However, before we look at Cotton more closely, let’s do a quick and dirty recap of one of the presidential system’s more common critiques. As readers of the late political scientist Juan Linz (or Vox’s Matt Yglesias) remember, one of the issues that can arise when a presidential system features disciplined and ideological parties is a crisis of sovereignty. That’s a fancy way of describing an argument between the executive and the legislative branches over which one is really in charge. Since they exist independently, and were empowered by voters through separate elections, both can claim to represent the will of the people. And if the two branches find themselves on opposite sides of a major dispute, push can come to shove — and worse.

Applying this model to the current foofaraw over Cotton’s letter isn’t a slam-dunk, but it is still edifying. In this case, the problem is that Cotton and his fellow signatories are mucking-up the conduct of President Obama’s foreign policy, which has traditionally been seen as constitutionally (and normatively) protected. Congress always has a role in foreign policy, of course — even if recent history indicates it to be shrinking. Usually, a president is left to negotiate a deal that he then presents to Congress for approval. But Cotton and his Republican allies in the Senate are so dead-set against an agreement of any kind with Iran that they’re trying to squash the deal upfront instead.

The end result seems to be the further dissolution of what was once an unwritten rule — “politics stops at the water’s edge” — in the name of some greater good. And this is where ideology comes in. Because it’s hardly as if Congress has never disagreed with a president’s foreign policy this strongly before. They have, as the representatives and senators elected during the worst days of the Vietnam War can attest. What is different, though, is the tenor of their arguments, as well as the dispute’s supposed stakes. Hysterical warmongers like Cotton have always been with us — but rarely before have people with such radical views held so much power within either party’s caucus.

Keep this in mind about Cotton: Unless he’s an actor of Daniel Day Lewis-like talents, he sincerely believes that the consequences of a nuclear Iran would be apocalyptic. He’s said dozens of times that the only deal with Iran he’d accept is one that resulted in complete nuclear disarmament — which, as Think Progress’s Igor Volsky noted, is a demand that even the George W. Bush administration considered ridiculous. He also seems to be under the impression that Iran is even more dangerous than it is, agreeing as he does with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Iran is on the verge of going nuclear. The fact that Netanyahu’s been saying this for more than a decade, and that his own country’s leading intelligence agency disagrees, has apparently not made much of an impression.

Regardless of how broken Cotton’s assessment of the Iranian threat may be, though, he’s still a U.S. senator. And as his letter notes with a characteristic lack of subtlety, Cotton and his fellow members of the Senate are quite likely to stick around (for “perhaps decades”) while the term-limited President Obama isn’t. Which means that so long as Cotton and his allies believe a deal with Iran over its nuclear program will lead to a second Holocaust, or will strengthen Iran’s hand in its “war” with “the West,” then the kind of norms of conduct he’s breaking — like not trying to sabotage a sitting president’s foreign policy — will continue to fade into irrelevance. And so long as right-wing donors and the voters in Arkansas reward him for challenging the president’s sovereignty, while the media allows him and his allies to muddy the waters with specious claims that Obama is the one breaking protocol, he’ll have no reason to act any other way.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, March 11, 2014

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Option Behind Door #3”: McCain, Rand Paul Roll Out New Excuses For Sabotage Letter

After putting his signature on the Senate Republicans’ infamous sabotage letter, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) started hedging Tuesday night, saying the GOP’s missive to Iranian leaders may not have been “the best way” for his party to achieve its goals.

By late yesterday, the longtime senator offered an entirely new rationale.

Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Republicans – many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm – should have given it closer consideration.

“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm,” McCain said.

McCain went on to tell Politico that he and his colleagues “probably should have had more discussion” about the document, “given the blowback that there is.”

Note, this appears to be the third excuse Republicans have come up with for the letter intended to derail American foreign policy. The first rationale was that the 47 GOP senators were kidding, and this was all an attempt at being “cheeky.” The second was that Republicans tried to undermine international nuclear talks, but this is all President Obama’s fault.

And here’s John McCain rolling out the option behind Door #3: Republicans were concerned about snow, so they rushed.

Oddly enough, that’s probably slightly better than the rationale Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) came up with.

On NBC’s “Today” show yesterday morning, the Kentucky Republican told Matt Lauer that he signed on to the sabotage letter because he wanted to “strengthen the president’s hand.”

If there’s a way to see this as a coherent argument, I can’t think of it. Rand Paul thought it would strengthen Obama’s hand at the negotiating table if Republicans told Iranian officials not to trust or cooperate with Obama?

In the larger context, let’s not forget that Republicans tend to consider foreign policy and national security as their signature issues, and polls, reality notwithstanding, generally show Americans trust the GOP more on matters of international affairs. Credibility on foreign policy is generally seen as a birthright throughout the Republican Party.

And yet, consider what we’re seeing from Republican senators right now and the degree to which it’s amateur hour within the GOP.

At a certain level, the fact that so many in the GOP are scrambling to address the scandal they created is itself a heartening sign. All things considered, it’s better to hear Republicans making bizarre excuses than to hear then boast about how proud they are of their sabotage letter. Senators like McCain and Paul aren’t defending the letter on the merits so much as they’re looking for excuses to rationalize their participation in a dangerous stunt.

But I’m nevertheless reminded of Fred Kaplan’s assessment from earlier this week: “It is a useful thing when a political party reveals itself as utterly unsuited for national leadership.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 12, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | Iran, John McCain, Rand Paul | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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