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”Your Vote Is Your Weapon”: Honor Julian Bond’s Legacy By Protecting Voting Rights

The fight for voting rights was always a key cause for Julian Bond over his distinguished life.

In 1965, as communications director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Bond coordinated the group’s media response from Atlanta after SNCC Chairman John Lewis nearly died marching for voting rights on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Bond made sure the country knew about the atrocities in Selma and finally did something about it.

Later that year, Bond won election to the Georgia House of Representatives, at twenty-five, illustrating the power of the new Voting Rights Act (VRA). After the legislature refused to seat him, for saying he agreed with a SNCC letter denouncing the Vietnam War, Bond appealed to the Supreme Court and won two more elections before the Court unanimously ruled that Bond deserved his seat.

He became one of the most well known politicians in America, but that didn’t stop Bond from continuing the painstaking, unglamorous work of democratizing the South. In the 1970s, he traveled extensively with Lewis on behalf of the Voter Education Project, registering black voters and encouraging them to run for office in forgotten places like Waterproof, Louisiana and Belzoni, Mississippi.

I wrote a lot about Bond’s work on voting rights and trips with Lewis in my new book Give Us the Ballot:

Their stops included civil rights battlegrounds like Belzoni, where fifteen years earlier George Lee, the first black to register in Humphreys County, was shot to death in his car after leading a group of blacks to register at the county courthouse. As Lewis and Bond spoke during an evening rally at a small black church, Belzoni’s mayor, Henry H. Gantz, a well-dressed middle-aged white man, unexpectedly burst through the door and walked down the center of the aisle. In the past, Gantz might’ve arrested everyone in the church for unlawful assembly. Instead, he clasped Bond and Lewis by the hand and told them: “Welcome to Belzoni. You two are doing wonderful work. You’re fighting bigotry and injustice. You’re a credit to your race.”

“He didn’t come down to the church to hear us speak,” an amused Bond said to the stunned crowd afterward. “He came down to be seen hearing us speak. He likes being mayor of Belzoni. He wants to go on being mayor of Belzoni. The reason he came to that church was that the black people have a weapon. It’s not a two-by-four; it’s not a gun or a brick. This weapon is the vote. You go down to the mayor’s office and hit him with a two-by-four, and he’ll remember it the next day. But if you hit him with the vote, he’ll remember it for the rest of his natural-born life.”

Bond and Lewis shockingly ran for Congress against each other during a special election for Atlanta’s 5th Congressional District—the hub of the city’s civil rights movement—in 1987. The fact that best friends competed for the same seat showed how few opportunities there were for black politicians in the South even decades after passage of the VRA. There were only two black members of Congress in the South at the time, “so it was this seat or none,” Bond told me. That began to change after Lewis’s upset victory, and there are twenty black members of Congress representing the South today.

Bond remained committed to the power of the vote when he became chairman of the NAACP, attending the signing ceremony where George W. Bush signed the VRA’s reauthorization in 2006. But seven years later, Bond watched in disbelief as the Supreme Court gutted the centerpiece of the VRA.

“This is a bad, bad day for civil rights,” Bond said. “There’s a proven record of discrimination in many states in this country. We can see during the last election these attempts at voter suppression nationwide in states both North and South. To imagine that this problem has been solved—or even more, to imagine that Congress, which is so dysfunctional, could deal with correcting this, is a myth.”

Chief Justice John Roberts “has done all he can do to frustrate the right of black people to vote, and it’s a sad commentary on him and on our judicial system that he’s allowed to do so,” Bond said during a speech at Dartmouth.

I asked Bond, for a 2013 profile of Lewis, if the attack on voting rights in states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin following the 2010 election surprised him. “I was naïve to think voting rights were untouchable,” Bond responded. “I didn’t dream that Republicans would be as bold and as racist as they are.”

On August 6, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the VRA, Bond urged the Congress to restore the landmark civil rights law. He tweeted, “Thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court and Congress we are celebrating the anniversary of the VRA without the VRA. Commit to its restoration!”

Protecting voting rights today would be a fitting way to honor Bond’s remarkable civil rights legacy.

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, August 17, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Julian Bond, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Skeletal Descriptions Of Planlike Concepts”: How The Presidential Race Is Making The GOP’s Health Care Ideas Even Worse

Every major national Republican is sure that they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are much less clear about what, if anything, they would do after stripping insurance from millions of people. Two plausible Republican nominees for president — Scott Walker and Marco Rubio — issued health care plans this week. And…let’s just say there’s a reason Republicans spend a lot more time on the “repeal” part of the “repeal and replace” equation.

Indeed, to call these positions “plans,” as opposed to gestures in the direction of having a policy alternative, is probably too generous. As Jon Chait of New York puts it, they are “not so much plans as skeletal descriptions of planlike concepts.” Still, even in larval form, Walker’s plan contains several elements that are common to most Republican health care proposals, and that if enacted would result in horribly unpopular policy disasters. Here are the main features:

End the individual mandate

Most individual components of the Affordable Care Act are popular; the requirement that people carry insurance or pay a tax penalty is not. And since the mandate was very nearly the lever that gave a conservative Supreme Court majority a pretext to declare the ACA unconstitutional, Republicans have also convinced themselves that it is one of the greatest threats to liberty ever seen. So it is inevitable that any Republican proposal will advocate eliminating it, as Walker’s does.

The problem is that the popular parts of the ACA can’t be divorced from the mandate. If people are permitted to free-ride, the health insurance market can’t work. Multiple states tried to initiate ACA-like reforms without a mandate, and it was a disaster — young and healthy people decline to buy insurance knowing they can get it if they fall sick, premiums increase, more people drop out, and the market collapses. This is why President Obama — who pandered during the 2008 primaries by putting forward a plan without a mandate — recanted as soon as he was in a position to actually try to get a law passed.

Make state regulations ineffective

Whenever conservatives have a policy they would prefer not to defend on the merits, the language of federalism comes in handy. In health care, virtually all Republican plans argue for permitting the purchase of insurance across state lines. Walker’s is no exception: “My plan would allow individuals to shop in any state to find health insurance that covers the services they need at a price that fits the family budget.”

In the abstract, a policy of permitting people to shop for insurance across state lines sounds attractive. In practice, it would be a regulatory race to the bottom. Insurance companies would gravitate to the states that place the fewest regulations on insurance industries. It would therefore become easier for insurance companies to deny claims, rescind insurance (or refuse to give it in the first place), and impose hidden costs. If you think credit card companies should be a model for health insurance companies, then Walker’s plan might sound like a good idea. If you’re thinking more clearly, it’s obviously a terrible one.

Make it easier to sell junk insurance

Walker’s plan would reduce federal regulations as well. The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurance actually cover things would be eliminated, as would other provisions such as the popular requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. Other provisions of the ACA, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, would be seriously weakened. So at the same time as Walker’s plan would effectively eliminate many state regulations, it would also leave the insurance companies mostly unsupervised by federal regulations as well.

Conservatives would defend this awful idea by posing a choice between “regulation” and “competition.” But the problem is that health care simply lacks the features of a competitive market. There’s a reason why other liberal democracies have more state intervention into health care than the United States, not less. And by the way, they all cover more people for significantly less money.

Attack the poor

Walker’s politics are not about small government. After all, he thinks that abortion should be illegal even when necessary to save a woman’s life, and he just approved a $250 million gift of taxpayer money to hedge fund billionaires to build a basketball stadium. Rather, his politics are about assisting the rich and powerful at the expense of the poorer and less powerful.

His health care plan is no exception. Like the ACA, Walker’s plan would offer tax credits to allow people to purchase insurance. But Walker’s tax credits would be distributed on the basis of age, not income. The result, as Jeffrey Young and Jon Cohn demonstrate, would be a disaster for the non-affluent, as insurance would become unaffordable for many people at any age. And in addition, Walker also advocates savage cuts to Medicaid. The callousness Walker showed in refusing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin is reflected in his health care plans.

So Walker’s plan would be an utter disaster if implemented. But it’s not just about Walker. Amazingly, some conservative candidates and pundits attacked Walker’s plan from the right. A spokesman for also-ran candidate Bobby Jindal accused Walker of collaborating with Bernie Sanders to create a plan that would make health care far less accessible to the non-rich.

Essentially, Republicans look at the state of health care circa 2009 — in which more than 16 percent of Americans were uninsured, and in which insurance companies could abuse consumers in a number of ways — and argue that even fewer Americans should have insurance and the quality of the insurance should be much worse. This is one of the many reasons that the contemporary Republican Party is simply unfit to govern at the national level.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, August 21, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP Presidential Candidates, Health Reform | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Donald Trump — Man Of War”: Do The Trumpeteers Actually Listen, Thoughtfully And Carefully, To What Trump Says?

We should all give thanks to Donald Trump’s reality-TV-show run for the Republican presidential nomination because of what it reveals about his fan base.

Assuming Trump’s supporters have actually listened to what the narcissistic real estate developer has been saying, what they want is multiple ground wars, an America that steals from other countries, an America that kills people because of their religion, and a massive police state constantly checking people (especially Hispanics and Latinos) to determine whether they’re undocumented and should be arrested and deported, and even have their citizenship taken away.

These Trumpeteers evidently want a president who believes his duties include humiliating anyone who asks questions he wishes had not been asked or whose business decisions he dislikes.

On a personal level, they want a president whose family values included years of keeping a mistress, Marla Maples, and who, after not having marital relations with his wife for more than 16 months, flew into a rage, tore hair from her head, and allegedly violated her sexually. Ivana Trump, after her testimony came out, said she did not mean “rape” in the sense that her husband should be prosecuted for a crime, but she has never wavered otherwise from her description of that violent bedroom assault.

Trump also abandoned his daughter with Maples, providing financial support but not much more, according to the girl’s mother. (If anyone has photos of Trump and daughter Tiffany taken in the last year, please send them to davidcay@me.com.)

The Trumpeteers also want a president whose own words indicate he is at times delusional, seeing demon-like changes in the face of Fox News personality Megyn Kelly. Her calm visage was visible to anyone watching the debate, yet Trump has said repeatedly that “everyone” saw Kelly become so visibly angry she had “blood coming from her eyes.”

Of course all of these observations rest on the assumption that the Trumpeteers actually listen, thoughtfully and carefully, to what Trump says — and that they understand our Constitution.

Trump has sold himself like a bottle of Coke – all fizz and fun with no substance. And my fellow journalists at the five major newspapers, the major broadcast outlets, and other news organizations have failed to vet the candidate — with minor and tepid exceptions.

The Donald’s marital violence has gotten some mention, for example, but with an emphasis on obfuscations by him and her fudging on the word “rape.”

Likewise, his extensive ties to the biggest Mafia figures in New York and Atlantic City, his history of cheating workers and vendors, and other unsavory aspects of his biography go largely unreported. I laid these out in an earlier National Memo column, but the major news organizations have tended to ignore skeletons in Trump’s closet — again there are exceptions, namely Michael Smerconish on CNN; Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC.

Trump gets a free ride because it’s cheap and easy to cover what candidates say, but takes actual work to examine what they have done. And work costs more.

Let’s start with war-mongering, because if Trump gets his finger on the button, that is exactly what we will get – not just a war, but multiple wars. He says we must have American troops on the ground in Iran, Iraq, and the “Islamic State” in parts of Syria and Iraq. This also means vast occupying armies, though Trump never mentions this fact and journalists fail to ask about that necessary step, if we are to steal the oil and install puppet regimes.

Trump has been urging war for almost 30 years. On Meet the Press in 1987, he said we should use the firing of a single bullet as a reason to invade Iran, seize its oil, and, as he put it, “let them have the rest” of their country.

As a presidential candidate, Trump has said he stands by those remarks and added that he wants American troops to invade the Middle East both to suppress the religious government emerging in parts of Syria and Iraq and to steal oil.

“I am the most militaristic person there is,” Trump proudly declared Aug. 10 on Morning Joe.

This assurance comes from a man who assiduously avoided the Vietnam-era draft, ultimately claiming “minor” bone spurs made him 4-F, though his accounts raise questions about his fidelity to facts. Trump has also said he opposed the Vietnam War, so his promotion of war as policy came only when other young men faced hostile bullets.

Trump has long walked with a bodyguard or two, and has an aversion to shaking hands with other people. (I have seen him go immediately wash his hands after he had no choice but to grip another person’s hand.)

Trump claims he speaks plainly, but he never says he wants to “steal” oil from other countries. Instead, Trump has repeatedly said over the last four years that America should “take the oil” of sovereign nations. In this context “take” and “steal” are synonymous.

Trump is not alone among Republican candidates in favoring another ground war in the Middle East — explicitly a religious war, waged against a modern caliphate (a theocratic government run by a presumed successor to the Prophet Muhammad).

For example, John Kasich, the Ohio governor who is always reminding us of his Christianity, also wants a ground war for the explicit purpose of destroying the emerging caliphate.

As with Trump’s preposterous claim that he can make Mexico pay for an impenetrable wall along the U.S. border, he shows no respect for the fact that Earth has about 200 sovereign nations. Instead he sees other countries as subservient to America and promises to dispatch ground troops wherever he thinks a country needs to be brought to heel.

Trump also seems unaware that no wealthy country has ever managed to keep ambitious poor people from entering it legally or otherwise, a lesson the Romans learned long ago.

His plans would require vast increases in government spending. So why do self-identified conservative Republicans, who want to pay less in taxes and enjoy a smaller government, favor his plans?

Creating a smaller government and lowering taxes is logically inconsistent with waging multiple wars while rounding up and deporting people who either entered the country illegally or stayed after their visas expired.

The long-term costs of more ground wars in the Middle East would run into the trillions of dollars with bills coming due well into the 22nd century as pensioners, widows, and the disabled children of veterans collect benefits for probably many decades after everyone old enough to read this is dead.

Worse, these unnecessary wars of plunder are likely to turn allies and nominal allies into enemies, inviting even more wars and, thus, more costs. America would be seen not as a beacon of liberty and opportunity, but a selfish, thieving, and dangerous pariah state.

The taxpayer cost for rounding up anyone perceived as an illegal immigrant could well be $200 billion. On top of that, there would be disruptions to business — adding billions more to the nation’s tab. And that doesn’t take into account the human cost of turning America into a police state where people turn in neighbors, perhaps for financial rewards or to avoid prosecution for misprision of a felony.

So yes, we should be thankful to Trump. His campaign is revealing just how many people in this country want America to become a modern Sparta, run by a president who demonizes others, wants to limit their personal conduct, seeks to control business decisions, and supports a massive expansion of the police powers of the state — which includes building a wall that will not keep people from coming to America uninvited.

What Trump’s rise in the polls tells us is that many Americans have no idea what our Constitution says, and wrongly believe that sovereignty is only for America. They do not know, or care, that the men who founded this country believed in the common defense, but never in attacking other countries, especially not to steal.

Of course all this assumes the Trumpeteers have actually thought through the reasons they support Trump, and have taken the time to understand what he has said and what he has done. Let us hope for the sake of our liberty and peace that is a wrong assumption.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, Featured Post, The National Memo, August 22, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Middle East, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Sam Brownback’s Kansas Disaster Is Getting Even Worse”: Conservative Policies Are Both A Moral And Practical Disaster

Politics is all too often couched in terms of morality and ethics, rather than simple right and wrong. What I mean by that is that reasonable people can come to different moral value judgments about ethical dilemmas: is it more moral to ensure that everyone has access to a social safety net even if some people game the system, or is it more moral to ensure that people keep all their private property and never have to give it up to someone less hardworking than themselves?

But it’s important to remember that it’s not just about empathy and ethics. It’s about what works and what doesn’t. And every day in every way, we are learning that conservative approaches simply don’t work–not in terms of social policy, and certainly not in terms of economic policy.

Exhibit A in the utter failure of conservative dogma is Sam Brownback’s trainwreck in Kansas. Here are the latest figures, courtesy of Yael Abouhalkah in the Kansas City Star:

This has been a bad week for Gov. Sam Brownback and others who believe his massive income tax cuts are going to dramatically boost employment in the state. A new report Friday showed that Kansas had lost a whopping 4,300 jobs in July from a month earlier.

The unemployment rate climbed for the fourth straight month, up to 4.6 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And look at this disastrous note: The Sunflower State now has 1,700 fewer jobs than it did at the start of 2015.

One more fact from the latest report shows that Kansas has added a puny 5,600 total jobs in the last year — from July 2014 to July 2015. The new information shows that the tax cuts that have drained the Kansas treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars the past two years are not working to attract employers and jobs.

Keep in mind that Kansas’ atrocious performance has nothing to do with the state of the midwest or the manufacturing sector generally, because both manufacturing and Kansas’ neighbors are actually doing pretty well comparatively:

Meanwhile, Missouri celebrated much better news in the latest BLS report. The Show-Me State gained 11,900 jobs in July, and now has added 30,900 for 2015. Yes, that’s without the huge tax cuts that Brownback and Co. put in place.

Earlier this week, a separate report showed Kansas is missing out on the growth in manufacturing employment, which is happening across much of the rest of America. One key statistic: Kansas lost 39,000 manufacturing jobs during the recession but has added just 4,000 since it ended.

All this as Brownback’s tax cuts are destroying what remains of the state’s educational system and social services. Brownback and his allies suffer under the delusion that supply-side economics really works, and that if they cut taxes enough on rich people and businesses that there will be an explosion of jobs and economic growth. That’s not just immoral because it increases inequality and hurts the poor. It’s as wrong as 2+2=5. In all but the most extreme cases, cutting taxes on the rich does nothing to create jobs, but slashing the salaries of teachers and cutting welfare benefits means less consumer demand, which in turns drives the economy into recession. The immorality would at least be somewhat tolerable if the ideology functioned at a broad utilitarian level, but it doesn’t.

Conservative policies are both a moral and practical disaster.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 22, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Some Americans Should Not Have Equal Rights?”: The Racist Roots Of The GOP’s Favorite New Immigration Plan

The year 1866 was an alarming one for xenophobes: Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, declaring “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power…to be citizens of the United States.” Though explicitly intended to grant citizenship to African-Americans, who’d been denied it by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1857 Dred Scott case, wouldn’t the law also “have the effect of naturalizing the children of Chinese and Gypsies born in this country?” wondered Pennsylvania Senator Edgar Cowan. “Undoubtedly,” responded Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. When President Andrew Johnson vetoed the act, he too raised the specter of the Chinese and “the people called Gypsies.”

Congress overrode the veto, and went on to enshrine the principle of birthright citizenship in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Needless to say, fears about the children of the gypsies proved unfounded. Yet the idea that people with certain types of parents should be denied citizenship—and the associated rights—persisted. Late in the nineteenth century the government tried to withhold citizenship from the children of Chinese immigrants, but was rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Native Americans weren’t considered citizens until 1924. These days the target is Latino immigrants and their children. And thanks to Donald Trump, the nativist argument against birthright citizenship has moved from a sideline item to a centerpiece in the Republican primary.

In a set of immigration policies released Sunday, Trump called for an end to birthright citizenship, which he described as “the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” Trump’s invocation of the fictitious “anchor baby” phenomenon isn’t particularly original. But what’s striking is that his implausible call for reinterpreting or rescinding the 14th Amendment has been taken up by so many of his competitors in the Republican field, including Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul. Chris Christie said recently that birthright citizenship should be “reexamined.” The much shorter list of those not in favor includes John Kasich (who previously advocated for revoking birthright citizenship), Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio, who stated that he is “open to exploring ways of not allowing people who are coming here deliberately for that purpose to acquire citizenship.”

The issue of birthright citizenship resurfaces every so often in Congress, but it’s never gotten much traction. Most recently Louisiana Senator David Vitter warned of the “exploding phenomenon” of “birth tourism,” and in March proposed to limit citizenship to those who have at least one parent with a green card or who’ve served in the military. Though bids like Vitter’s are more demagogic than actionable, some US-born children with undocumented parents already face hurdles related to their citizenship rights. Texas, for instance, recently began refusing to issue birth certificates to parents who use a photo ID from the Mexican Consulate as their only form of identification.

Kelefa Sanneh points out that, bluster aside, Trump is actually forcing a substantive policy debate. The substance is extreme: Walker, for instance, once supported comprehensive reform legislation that including labor rights and a pathway to legal status; now he is “absolutely” in favor of ending birthright citizenship. (So are 63 percent of Republicans, according to a 2010 Fox News poll.) While the GOP was once wondering whether Romney’s promotion of “self deportation” went too far, now candidates are pandering to the base’s racial anxieties with talk of undoing what historian Eric Foner characterizes as one of the Republican Party’s own “historic achievements.”

The irony is that doing so would dramatically increase the number of undocumented people living in the United States. (As has the militarization of the border.) Denying birthright citizenship to children with undocumented parents would bring the population of unauthorized people to as many as 24 million by 2050, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The result, according to MPI, would be the creation of “an underclass of unauthorized immigrants who, through no fault of their own, would be forced to live in the margins of US society.” In other words, undermining the 14th Amendment won’t solve the (nonexistent) problem of “birth tourism.” It would, however, do what the denial of citizenship has done since the era of Dred Scott: strip civil rights from a racialized group, facilitating their exploitation.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, August 19, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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