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“A Law Embedded Then Civil War-Era”: Restoring Voting Rights To Felons Is The Right Thing To Do

Of all the consequences of the nation’s decades-long infatuation with building more and more prisons and locking up more and more citizens, perhaps the most curious is this: More than 4 million Americans who have been released from prison have lost their right to vote, according to the non-profit Sentencing Project.

Even after men and women have served their time — after they have paid their debt to society, as the cliche goes — most states restrict their franchise. It’s an odd idea: Those men and women are harmless enough to release onto the streets, but they can’t be trusted to vote. They have finished serving their sentences, but they are barred from full citizenship.

A disproportionate number of those second-class citizens are black. Because black Americans, particularly men, are locked up at a higher rate than their white peers, this peculiar practice falls heavily on them. Nationwide, one in every 13 black adults cannot vote as the result of a felony conviction, as opposed to one in 56 non-black voters, according to the Sentencing Project, which advocates for alternatives to mass incarceration.

It’s undemocratic, it’s unfair and it’s un-American. While ancient Greek and Roman codes withdrew the franchise from those who had committed serious crimes, most Western countries now see those codes as outdated.

Recognizing that, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, used his executive power earlier this month to sweep away his state’s laws limiting the franchise for felons. With that action, about 200,000 convicted felons who have completed their prison time and finished parole or probation are now eligible to vote.

McAuliffe noted that Virginia’s law — one of the nation’s harshest and embedded in a Civil War-era state constitution — didn’t hobble the voting rights of black citizens through mere coincidence. That was its purpose. McAuliffe’s staff came across a 1906 report in which a then-state senator gloated about several voting restrictions, including a poll tax and literacy tests, that, he said, would “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this state in less than five years,” according to The New York Times.

You’d think that McAuliffe’s fellow Virginia politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, would celebrate his decision. Eliminating barriers to the franchise — especially those with obviously racist roots — can only polish the state’s image and strengthen the civic fabric.

But GOP leaders have objected, accusing McAuliffe of “political opportunism” and a “transparent effort to win votes.” Well, OK. Let’s stipulate that politicians are usually in the business of trying to win votes.

Having conceded that, though, isn’t restoring the voting rights of men and women who have served their time a good idea? If a crime renders a man beyond the boundaries of civilized society, he should be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Otherwise, his crime shouldn’t place him in an inferior caste, without the privileges of full citizenship.

Curiously, though, many conservatives seem to disagree. After Democrat Steve Beshear, then Kentucky’s governor, issued an executive order last year similar to McAuliffe’s, his Republican successor, Matt Bevin, overturned it. Bevin signed a law allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions — a bureaucratic hurdle not easily overcome. Maryland’s GOP governor, Larry Hogan, vetoed a bill to restore voting rights to felons, but the Democratically controlled legislature overrode him.

Those Republican governors are simply following the party’s script, which has focused for the last several years on ways to block the ballot, starting with harsh voter ID laws. While advocates of such laws claim they are meant to protect against voting fraud, the sort of in-person fraud they would prevent hardly exists.

The real motivation for GOP lawmakers is to restrict the franchise from people unlikely to vote for them — especially people of color and millennials. Rather than campaign on a platform that attracts support, they rely on barriers to voting.

That’s wrong. The strength of American democracy depends on persuading more citizens that their votes count; carelessly — or intentionally — disenfranchising those with whom you disagree rends the civic fabric, distorts the political process and stokes the flames of discontent.

We surely don’t need more of that in this political season.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, April 29, 2016

April 30, 2016 Posted by | Citizenship, Criminal Justice System, Terry McAuliffe, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“He Believes In Nothing And Everything”: If This Was Trump At His ‘Presidential’ Best, He’s In Big Trouble

After Donald Trump’s big speech yesterday on foreign policy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter, “Washington elites mock Trump for mispronouncing Tanzania. They don’t get it. He said the most important word correctly: America. He gets it.”

I suppose this is true in a literal sense. It is “important” for an American presidential candidate to pronounce the name of their own country correctly, and if this is the new standard for success, I’m pleased to report that Gingrich is correct: Trump cleared this absurdly low bar.

But aside from pronouncing “America” correctly, the rest of Trump’s remarks were an unnerving mess. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported:

Looking to soothe fears that he lacked the experience and gravitas necessary to manage the most powerful military in the world, Donald Trump delivered a rare pre-written speech Wednesday in Washington outlining his foreign policy vision.

In many ways it raised more questions than it answered, bouncing between typical anti-Obama talking points, jarring threats to America’s friends and rivals, and soothing talk of peaceful global cooperation.

“Jarring” is the ideal adjective in this case. At one point, Trump said the United States must be prepared to tell our old allies that they should “defend themselves” and not look to us for support. In the next breath, Trump expressed dismay that so many U.S. allies feel abandoned by President Obama.

How did the Republican frontrunner reconcile the contradiction? He didn’t – Trump simply transitioned to new contradictions before anyone could fully come to terms with the last one.

Americans were told, for example, that a Trump administration would replace “randomness with purpose” through “a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy.” He then insisted, “We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable.”

Trump opposes the idea of a foreign policy based on “ideology,” rejecting the idea of exporting Western-style democracy abroad. He then emphasized the importance of “promoting Western civilization” around the globe.

Trump lamented the way in which our “resources are overextended.” He also believes the United States must “continually play the role of peacemaker” and “help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself.”

Trump boasted about all of the leverage we have over China, around the same time as he complained about how we no longer have leverage over China.

And don’t get me started about Trump’s ridiculous factual errors.

So, what does Donald Trump believe about foreign policy? He believes in nothing and everything, all at once. As president, he would do more and less, wage war and peace, reach out and push away, all while being unflinchingly consistent and wildly unpredictable.

In other words, Trump doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about – and unfortunately for him, quite a few folks noticed. Politico reported:

[A]cross the ideological spectrum, and even among natural allies, Trump’s speech received a failing grade for coherence and drew snickering and scorn from foreign policy insiders who remain unconvinced that Trump is up to the job.

“It struck me as a very odd mishmash,” said Doug Bandow, a foreign policy scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, who shares many of Trump’s beliefs about scaling back America’s role abroad. “He called for a new foreign policy strategy, but you don’t really get the sense he gave one.”

Trump’s speech was “lacking in policy prescriptions,” and its “strident rhetoric masked a lack of depth,” said Robert “Bud” McFarlane, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan who attended the speech.

If Trump had merely presented a blueprint for a bad foreign policy, that would at least be the basis for a credible debate. Plenty of candidates offer misguided ideas and dangerous solutions, and if nothing else, they serve as the foundation for something that can be critiqued.

But dealing with an incoherent, contradictory mess is far more difficult.

The irony is, yesterday’s speech, coming on the heels of his five landslide primary victories the day before, was supposed to help Trump appear more presidential. Speaking from a teleprompter, the Republican frontrunner hoped to convey a sense of seriousness and gravitas. But for anyone who actually listened to the content of his remarks, yesterday served as a powerful reminder that the former reality-show host isn’t yet prepared for the role of Leader of the Free World.

 

By: Steve Beben, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, U. S. Allies | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Republicans Souring On Their Own Party”: America Hasn’t Disliked The Republican Party This Much Since 1992

A shocking new poll suggests that Donald Trump may actually be hurting the image of the Republican Party. While most assumed that the GOP’s embrace of an openly misogynistic, proudly ignorant pseudo-fascist would improve the party’s standing with minority voters and millennials, Pew Research’s latest survey finds that Republicans’ unfavorable rating is now 62 percent — the highest it’s been in more than two decades.

Back in October, Pew found 37 percent of the country viewed the GOP favorably, while 58 percent saw it in a negative light. Today, those numbers are 33 and 62, respectively. That downturn is driven almost entirely by Republicans souring on their own party: In the current poll, 68 percent of red America views the GOP favorably, down from 79 percent last fall.

Trump is doubtlessly responsible for much of that dip. The GOP front-runner has alienated Republicans who don’t like menstruation jokes and anti-trade populism, while simultaneously encouraging those who do like those things to see the party as a corrupt institution hell-bent on defying their will.

Meanwhile, 61 percent of Hispanics and 79 percent of African-Americans have a negative view of the Party of Lincoln, while majorities in both groups approve of Democrats. Even white people are losing their taste for elephant, with 58 percent giving the GOP a thumbs-down. The party’s friendliest audience is whites without college degrees — and 52 percent of them don’t like Republicans.

America isn’t crazy about Democrats either. Half of the country views Team Blue unfavorably, while 45 percent approve. And a full quarter of the American public says, “A pox on both their houses.”

Still, Republicans are in a much worse place than their friends across the aisle. The last time 62 percent of the country disliked the GOP was 1992. Oddly enough, that was also the last time a (non-incumbent) Democrat named Clinton won the White House.

 

By: Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Republican Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ahistorical”: Trump And Clinton Are Telling Two Radically Different Stories About The Economy. Only One Is Based In Reality

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, there’s an interview with President Obama in which he assesses his economic legacy, and as you might expect, he has a complicated view of things. He thinks his administration did an excellent job pulling us out of the Great Recession: “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform. By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.” But he wishes he had been able to pass more infrastructure spending: “it was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need.”

Obama also makes an argument about what Republicans propose to do on the economy that gets directly to the competing stories that the two parties are going to be presenting to the American public this fall.

Even if a contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be more focused on personality than your typical presidential campaign, it’s still the case that the outcome of the election will be determined in significant part by which of these economic stories the voting public finds more persuasive. And each story has two parts: a description of the American economy as it is now, and a proposal for what the candidate would like to do and how that plan will change things. Here’s Obama’s assessment of the Republicans’ second part:

“If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” Obama said. “Slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that they’ll do all this while balancing the budget. Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that I happen to agree with him on this, though I’d describe how ridiculous it is in somewhat stronger terms. I can’t stress this enough: Republicans argue that if we just cut taxes on the wealthy and reduce regulations on corporations, then the economy will explode in a supernova of prosperity for all. You can call this belief ahistorical, or unsupported by facts, or baseless or implausible, but if you want to be frank you’d have to say that it’s absolutely lunatic.

But let’s put this in context of the stories the two candidates will be telling. Here’s Donald Trump’s economic story:

The economy is an absolute nightmare. Americans are living in such misery that they’re practically eating their own shoes in order to survive. If we cut taxes on the wealthy, reduce regulations on corporations, renegotiate trade agreements, and deport all illegal immigrants, then our economy will be spectacular and working people will experience American greatness again.

And here’s Hillary Clinton’s economic story:

The economy is doing pretty well, and a lot better than it was eight years ago when the Republicans were in charge, but it could be even better. If we pass some worker-focused measures like increasing the minimum wage, stronger overtime protections and guaranteeing equal pay, and make infrastructure investments, then our economy will improve for everyone.

Trump’s story is the same one other Republicans tell, with the addition of the idea that “bad deals” on trade have had a crippling effect on the country. For the moment we’ll put aside the merits of Trump’s claim that imposing enormous tariffs on Chinese goods will cause all those jobs sewing clothing and assembling electronics to come pouring into the United States, but the political question around Trump’s story is whether people will believe his over-the-top description of both what’s happening now and the transformation he will be able to produce.

We’ve known for some time that voters’ perceptions of the economy are colored by partisanship: to simplify a bit, when there’s a Democrat in the White House, Republican voters will say that the economy is doing poorly and Democratic voters will say it’s doing great; when there’s a Republican president, the opposite is true.

For instance, in 2012 when Barack Obama was running for reelection, 49 percent of Democrats told the National Election Studies that the economy had gotten better in the previous year, while only 17 percent said it had gotten worse. On the other hand, nine percent of Republicans said it had gotten better, while 56 percent said it had gotten worse. Go back to 2004 when George W. Bush was running for reelection, and we see the reverse: 43 percent of Republicans said the economy had gotten better and 22 percent said it had gotten worse, while only 10 percent of Democrats said it had gotten better and 63 percent said it had gotten worse.

So obviously, people aren’t just reacting in an objective way to what they see around them. At the same time, there is a reality that can eventually poke its way through the veil partisans place over their eyes. In 2008, when the economy was in a catastrophic decline, everyone in both parties agreed on what was happening (94 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it had gotten worse).

Times like 2008 are rare, though. Today, the objective reality is a lot closer to the way Democrats describe it, in large part because they aren’t offering an extreme version of their truth. If Obama and Clinton were more rhetorically similar to Donald Trump, they’d be saying that this is the greatest economy in the history of human civilization, everybody has a terrific job, and there’s so much prosperity that the only question any American has is whether to spend their money on everything they could ever want or just roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

But they aren’t saying that. Instead, they’re attempting the tricky balancing act of emphasizing the progress Obama has made while acknowledging the long-term weaknesses in the economy. Both of those things are real. Since the bottom of the Great Recession early in Obama’s first term, the economy has added 14 million jobs, and unemployment is now at 5 percent. On the other hand, income growth has been concentrated at the top and Americans still feel uncertain about their economic futures.

Donald Trump has chosen to pretend that the good things about the American economy don’t exist, and weave a laughable fantasy about what his policies will produce (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created”). Can he convince voters — particularly those in the middle who might be persuaded to vote for either candidate — to believe it? I guess we’ll see.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economy, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Donald Trump’s Narcissistic Delusion”: Incapable Of Assessing His Candidacy Beyond A Dominant White Male Perspective

Donald Trump rose to the top of the pack of Republican presidential candidates with his inflammatory rhetoric about Mexican immigrants. It looks like Hispanic Americans haven’t forgotten about that.

Registration among Hispanic voters is skyrocketing in a presidential election cycle dominated by Donald Trump and loud GOP cries to close the border.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, projects 13.1 million Hispanics will vote nationwide in 2016, compared to 11.2 million in 2012 and 9.7 million in 2008.

Many of those new Hispanic voters are also expected to vote against Trump if he is the Republican nominee, something that appears much more likely after the front-runner’s sweeping primary victories Tuesday in five East Coast states.

A whopping 80 percent of respondents in a poll of registered Hispanic voters in Colorado and Nevada said Trump’s views on immigration made them less likely to vote for Republicans in November. In Florida, that number was 68 percent.

Note that the 80% of registered Hispanics in those states said they are less likely to vote for Republicans…not just Donald Trump. So his rantings are not only affecting the presidential race, but could also have an impact down ballot.

As November looks likely to be a contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there are whispers of a possible landslide election in the making. It is interesting to note that the Republican Party had a moment of sanity immediately following the 2012 election when they published the infamous “autopsy” suggesting the need to do better outreach – specifically with women and Hispanics. But Donald Trump is succeeding in the Republican primary precisely because he is so intent on alienating those two groups (among others).

There are those who expect that Trump will somehow “pivot” during the general election and increase his appeal beyond the angry white male Republicans who are the base of his support right now. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that Trump is incapable of assessing his candidacy beyond the frame of a dominant white male perspective. That’s why he continually suggests that women, Hispanics and African Americans “love” him despite reality. He won’t feel the need to pivot because he honestly thinks he’s already arrived. In other words, he is living in a delusional world that reinforces his narcissism.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hispanics, White Men | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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