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“Maintaining Its Sad Tradition Of Disenfranchisement”: Texas Lawmakers Are Busy Making It Harder To Vote

Another legislative session, another unfortunate attempt by Texas politicians to make it harder to vote. While other states move their registration systems into the 21st century — by putting the onus on the government to add eligible voters to the rolls, or letting citizens sign up online, for example — Texas maintains its sad tradition of disenfranchisement.

One measure (HB 1096) that would make it more difficult for voters to confirm their residency recently cleared the House. Another bill approved by the Senate (SB 1934) would eliminate nonexpiring photo identification cards for the state’s senior citizens. Because unexpired photo IDs or IDs that have been expired no more than 60 days are required to vote, this change would make it even harder for Texas seniors to get their ballots counted. Do we really need to wonder why lawmakers are making these changes?

While some legislators have introduced bills this session to help voters, these bills have largely gone nowhere. A bill that would issue no-charge birth certificate copies to some Texans under a limited set of circumstances passed the Senate, but the law, if passed, would help only a fraction of disenfranchised voters. This is not enough. Texas deserves a Legislature that will take action to ensure that the voices of all eligible voters are heard, rather than putting up more obstacles to the ballot box.

In 2011, Texas enacted the nation’s strictest voter ID law. It permits use of limited types of photo IDs to vote, and the ID must be current or recently expired. To obtain nearly every form of acceptable ID, an original or certified copy of a voter’s birth certificate is required. Hundreds of thousands of registered Texas voters lack the ID or supporting documents needed to meet these stringent requirements.

While Texans of all ages have felt the negative impact of the photo ID law, the burden on the state’s seniors is particularly acute. Older voters are less likely to have a current driver’s license — because many no longer drive — and are more likely to find it difficult or downright impossible to obtain a birth certificate. Many live in long-term care facilities and, because of health or liability issues, are unable to travel to renew their IDs, or are understandably overwhelmed by the required paperwork. Cutting nonexpiring state IDs for seniors would only exacerbate these burdens.

So far, two federal courts have stepped in to block the Texas ID law because it disenfranchises Latino and African-American voters. Last year, a federal court in Texas found the law not only had the effect of discriminating against minority voters but also that the Legislature passed the law with the intent of making it harder for voters of color to cast a ballot. The case is now before a federal appellate court. During oral arguments, a Republican-appointed judge pointedly asked Texas’ attorney why the Legislature hasn’t taken the opportunity to fix the problems with the photo ID law. The lawyer had no response when the judge asked why it should fall to the court to fix the law, when legislators have had years to do so.

The numbers show that some legislators have had ample opportunity to help voters. This legislative session alone, there have been at least 17 bills introduced to ameliorate the strict voter ID law. Bills that would allow expired government-issued IDs to be accepted for voting and others that would expand the list of acceptable IDs have not gotten so much as a public hearing. The Legislature has instead chosen to expend more energy on changes that would make voting even more difficult.

Bills to soften the draconian photo ID law are not the only voter-friendly measures Texas legislators have left on the table. At least 28 other bills have been introduced that would expand access to the ballot. These efforts range from proposals that would make it easier for voters to update their registration to legislation that would increase language access for voters whose primary language is not English. Nearly all of these bills have received no legislative attention.

While a proposal that would have allowed Texans to register through a secure online portal did manage to at least get a public hearing, legislators expressed skepticism that the modernizing reform — which has been successfully adopted by nearly 30 other states — could be done in Texas. They promptly killed the bill.

Given Texas’ sordid history of manipulating the right to vote, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Legislature is making voting harder. Texans should demand better.

 

By: Jennifer L. Clark and Gary Bledsoe, Cross-Posted from The Dallas Morning News; Brennan Center for Justice, May 19, 2015

 

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Nuance Of Climate Change Denialism”: No Differences When It Comes To What Government Should Do…Nothing

Recently Jeb Bush said this:

“The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted,” he told roughly 150 people at a house party here Wednesday night. “And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you. It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

So he’s embraced the scientific fact that the climate is changing. We can’t really accuse him of being a true climate change denier.

I would also suggest that he’s right…the science isn’t clear about the exact percentage of climate change that is man-made and how much is natural. But from there, what he has to say is one hot mess. He makes the subtle suggestion that those who prioritize dealing with climate change are saying that the science is decided on how much is man-made and how much is natural. That’s a complete straw man that doesn’t exist, but he feels the need to call “arrogant.”

What the science actually says is that human beings are having a major impact on climate change. Anyone who doesn’t accept that is in denial.

When it comes to the 2016 Republican candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio occupies what might be called their own particular brand of “mushy middle” on climate change denialism.

Humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of these people out there are trying to make us believe, for the following reason: I believe the climate is changing because there’s never been a moment where the climate is not changing. The question is, what percentage of that … is due to human activity?

He too accepts that the climate is changing (because it’s always changing). But apparently he thinks it’s an open question whether or not human activity has any impact at all.

For flat-out denialism, the prize goes to Sen. Ted Cruz.

“The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that – that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz…

When pressed about the fact that the arctic is melting, and whether that helps prove climate change is real, Cruz dismissed it.

“Other parts are going up. It is not – you know, you always have to be worried about something that is considered a so-called scientific theory that fits every scenario. Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they’ll say, well, it’s changing, so it proves our theory,” argued Cruz.

There you have it folks, a rare moment of nuanced disagreement between three Republican candidates for president. But never fear, they dispense with all of those differences when it comes to the question of what government should do about climate change…nothing.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 23, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Change Deniers, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | 3 Comments

“Flood The Government With Lawsuits”: Charles Murray And The Right’s Plan To Subvert Democracy

Early last week, a watchdog website hosted by People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, reacted with alarm to a political-legal strategy outlined in a new book by the conservative social theorist Charles Murray. Normally when liberals assail Murray it’s in connection with his infamous tome The Bell Curve, which made him synonymous with race science—specifically the presumption that I.Q. differences between whites and blacks can be partially attributed to genetics.

Twenty years later, Murray has moved on to a more direct form of conservative activism, and taken a critical look at the mixed record of various expensive right-wing efforts to roll back the New Deal consensus. As you might expect from someone as deterministic as the author of The Bell Curve, Murray has concluded that the conservative movement’s shortcomings must be explained via reference to its political DNA and the political DNA of its competitors. But rather than reason much as he did two decades ago that these shortcomings reflect the intrinsic weakness of his ideology, he has concluded instead that the system is rigged against it. Appealing as populist libertarian ideas are to him and his cohort, or as they should be in the abstract, they simply can’t compete in a democratic environment with downwardly distributive progressivism. For the right to gain advantage, it will have to change terrain.

In his latest book, as PFAW explains, Murray hopes “to have one or a few anti-government billionaires kick in to create ‘The Madison Fund,’ a legal group that would flood the government with lawsuits challenging the enforcement of regulations they deem unnecessary.”

This is an apt description of Murray’s strategy, but the strategy itself happens to be the least revealing or alarming in his book. By The People is not first and foremost a book about billionaires subverting federal regulations, or beleaguered citizens seeking redress with the help of libertarian philanthropists.

It is instead about the impossible odds conservatives face if they hope to implement a libertarian agenda, and thus about the need for conservatives to think more devilishly about how to subvert democratic and quasi-democratic processes. The book’s title—By The People—has been held up for ridicule for exemplifying the emptiness of the populist appellations conservatives typically apply to the handiwork of wealthy, self-interested ideologues. But perhaps the joke’s on us, and Murray’s simply using a different form of the word “by” than Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

The subtext of Murray’s argument is that principled conservatives can only set back liberalism with rearguard action, and that even then, they can hope only for modest victories. Remarkably, the 100-page buildup to the strategy that has PFAW so concerned reads less like a battle cry than like a manifesto of hopelessness—or perhaps like a letter of surrender to the left. Murray tells his fans that “a restoration of limited government is not going to happen by winning presidential elections and getting the right people appointed to the Supreme Court”—asking them to accept, as a premise, that the billions of dollars conservative activists have spent trying to advance the cause through the White House have been wasted, or at least could have been better spent.

Like an adolescent Ayn Rand devotee, Murray can’t quite come to grips with the unattractiveness of his ideology. He is perfectly aware that the policies he opposes and the regulations he wants to overwhelm with litigation could theoretically be overturned by Congress and a conservative president. But to him, the unlikelihood of that outcome isn’t attributable to the normative weaknesses of his worldview but to a playing field that’s tilted against it. His ideas falter not because the people don’t support them, but because a series of ingredients, including—in his words!—the democratization of the House of Representatives, have corrupted the political system systemically. To the extent that “the people” he claims to be speaking for don’t rise up to challenge this corruption, it’s because they run up against what Murray calls “the fundamental theorem of democratic politics”—the fact that “people who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits.”

“As of 2012,” Murray laments, “approximately half of all Americans received such benefits.” And more than one in three receive such generous benefits (either through welfare or retirement programs) that “the continued security of those programs is likely to be near the top of the recipients’ political calculations.”

Conservatism has been checkmated, not by a superior player, but by an unscrupulous one. Under the circumstances, Murray sees no choice but to move the game from the chessboard into the wild.

In truth, there’s nothing particularly novel or disquieting about the scheme Murray’s drawn up, except insofar as the procedural extremism conservatives have deployed in the Obama era is alarming in general. From the moment conservatives lost the White House six and a half years ago, they’ve been asking judges to do on their behalf what they’ve been unable to accomplish in the democratic branches. A few weeks from now, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in a case that was devised as part of an explicit strategy to hobble the Affordable Care Act through the judiciary, knowing that the legislature wouldn’t be able to do it for them.

This strategy has been intermittently successful, but has also run aground when its objectives—such as paralyzing the administrative state by flooding the courts with litigation—are unsupportable or too nakedly political. Notwithstanding Murray’s continued influence over conservative thinking, including favorable mentions just this month by GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, his latest big idea will run into a feasibility problem: even if it were attempted, it wouldn’t work particularly well.

What’s refreshing about By The People is that it blows right past the typical pretense that conservatives are, humbly and alone, defending the constitution and the rule of law, except to the extent that he believes the country went off the constitutional rails in systemic fashion several decades ago. He happily admits that his means here are subversive, undemocratic and of questionable legality. His substantive aims are not so different from those of, for instance, National Review writers Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who have outlined an agenda for the GOP Congress that includes unwinding the cooperative federalist models, responsible for so much of the regulatory and redistributive status quo Murray detests, and subjecting the regulatory regime in the crosshairs of his litigation strategy to legislative approval. But what Murray sees that others don’t, or won’t admit, is that these goals can be achieved only by short-circuiting the normal policy-making process.

It’s a shame in a way, because notwithstanding his Romney-esque conception of the political economy of modern welfare states, Murray’s overall critique of the American political system has a lot of merit to it. Were Murray’s central purpose to make Congress and the executive branch more responsive to the public, irrespective of the public’s political disposition, he’d find a lot of support in unexpected places. But that’s not his central purpose, and for good reason. As infuriating and frustrating as the U.S. government’s many corruptions are, they do not explain why conservatives have failed to upend enforcement of environmental, anti-discrimination and workplace-safety regulations. That’s why his preferred instrument of reform isn’t the ballot box, but the court system, and that in turn gives away the game. The former helps ensure that policy reforms have public sanction. The latter makes it possible to sneak ones that don’t By The People.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 18, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Charles Murray, Conservatives, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Only Officers Who Would Have A Problem Are Bad Officers”: Do Police Have A Right To Withhold Video When They Kill Someone?

In Gardena, California, south of Los Angeles, three police officers killed an unarmed man, shooting him eight times, and shooting a second, seriously wounding him. They said the men were suspected of stealing a bicycle, but in fact they were friends of the man whose bike had been stolen, the Los Angeles Times reported, and “were searching for the missing bicycle.” The City agreed to pay a $4.7 million settlement to the survivor. The whole incident was recorded on a video camera mounted inside a police car. The officers involved were allowed to view the video, but the Gardena police refused to release it to the public, claiming that making the video public would violate the privacy rights of the officers involved.

Do the police have a privacy right to withhold video shot by in-car cameras or body cams? Do public officials, acting in their public capacity, have a right to prevent the public from reviewing video evidence of their conduct? You’d think the answer was obviously “no.” When the police kill somebody, it’s not “private.”

But 15 states are considering legislation to exempt video recordings of police encounters from release under state public records laws, according to the Associated Press, or to limit what can be made public. In Kansas the state Senate voted 40-0 in April to exempt police body-cam videos from the state’s open-records act. Police would have to release them only to people who are the subject of the recordings. Kansas police, on the other hand, would be able to release videos “at their own discretion.” In Minnesota, a state Senate committee has approved a bill making most police body-cam videos off-limits to the general public, “except when an officer uses a dangerous weapon or causes bodily harm.”

The ACLU recently estimated that a thousand people a year may have been killed by the police in the United States. The whole idea of videotaping the police is to deter excessive force and other forms of misconduct, and to provide a way of resolving disputes between victims of police violence and officers claiming they had just cause. “People behave better on film, whether it’s the police or the suspect,” said Michelle Richardson, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “because they realize others are going to see them.” That’s the main reason President Obama has proposed spending $75 million to help police departments buy body cams.

There’s good evidence body-cams can stop bad cops. In Rialto, California, east of LA, police officers wore cameras for a year in 2012, and as The Guardian reported, “public complaints against officers plunged 88 per cent compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60 per cent.”

But if the police get to decide what the public will see, the entire rationale for the cameras is undermined. The police will release videos when they support the police version of violent encounters, and withhold the videos documenting misconduct.

The case for a police right to privacy is weak. Advocates say releasing videos could lead to retaliation against the officers involved and endanger their families. It’s the same rationale for refusing to release the names of police officers who injure or kill innocent people. But in those cases, the video (and the names) should be released, and protection provided if necessary for the officers and their families.

Of course most video from police body cams should not be made public. The ACLU has proposed guidelines that protect the privacy rights of the people encountering the police. For example, body-cam video shot inside people’s homes, when police respond to a domestic violence call, needs special restrictions on release, the ACLU argues. The ACLU also notes the need for restrictions on the release and posting on the internet of dash cam video of embarrassing incidents such as DUI stops of celebrities or “ordinary individuals whose troubled and/or intoxicated behavior has been widely circulated and now immortalized online.”

Police officers could withhold body cam video under the proposed ACLU guidelines if it does not document encounters with the public—for example conversations between officers in squad cars or the locker room. One other key issue in the proposed ACLU guidelines: police officers should not be allowed to turn off their body cams and should be disciplined if they do.

Progressive police officials know the body cams will help them get rid of bad cops. Denver police chief Robert White is one of those officials. Good cops should welcome body cams, he said recently, because they will “protect police from false allegations of excessive force.” And “citizens should know officers are being held accountable. The only officers who would have a problem with body cameras are bad officers.” The same goes for releasing police video.

 

By: Joe Wiener, The Nation, May 21, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Police Brutality, Police Shootings, Police Video Cameras, Police Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yea, Right; Seeking God Like Never Before”: Meet The Duggars; Reality TV Stars And Moral Hypocrites

The Duggar family, of TLC’s popular reality series 19 Kids and Counting, has admitted their oldest son had a undisclosed history of molesting his own sisters. Josh Duggar, now 27 years old and father to three young children, has since made statements regretting his “inexcusable” actions.

The Duggars are known for their unusually G-rated show, in which they espouse a conservative, Christian lifestyle. Birth control is discouraged (obviously), women wear modest clothing, and contact between the sexes is strictly monitored.

Despite their moralizing, Josh, the oldest in the long line of children, has been revealed to have a history of fondling multiple unnamed minors. According to InTouch magazine, which originally broke the story, a female member of the Duggar brood informed her father in early 2002 that Josh had been fondling her while she slept.

Several months later, another daughter also confessed that Josh had been sexually abusing her. Other minors complained of ongoing abuse, finally prompting Jim Bob, the Duggar family patriarch, to go to the authorities.

Unfortunately, those “authorities” were, in fact, the church elders — and in their wisdom, they chose not to involve the police. Instead, Josh Duggar was sent to a “Christian program” consisting of “hard physical work and counseling” from March to July 2003.

Michelle Duggar, the family’s mother, later admitted the so-called program was actually just a temporary stay at a family friend’s house. The friend, a contractor, had no counseling experience.

Finally, in 2006, Jim Bob reported the abuse to the police. No other official action was taken and the family says that the victims “forgave” Josh, who had “sought after God and turned back to God.”

Since the molestation came to light, Josh Duggar has resigned his position at the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, a conservative, religious non-governmental organization considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

TLC has canceled all shows featuring the Duggars that were set to air, and the program’s chances of renewal remain questionable.

The family has spoken out in defense of their son, stating, “That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before. Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God.”

Josh’s wife, Anna, has also spoken out in support of her husband. She was evidently informed of Josh’s so-called “mistakes” two years before their engagement, and believes he is simply “someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended.”

The man at the center of the storm has also issued a statement, released to People magazine, saying, “I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

As far as Josh Duggar is concerned, God’s grace may let a confessed child molester off the hook, but it does not extend to gays and lesbians, whose sexual orientation Duggar has, not incidentally, frequently linked to pedophilia.

But if God has forgiven Josh and his family, He is not alone. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has already declared his support, so at least he’s guaranteed 10 votes from the Duggar household.

 

By: Bridget Hughes, The National Memo, May 22, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Family Research Council, Family Values, The Duggars | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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