Nel's New Day

May 27, 2018

U.S. Minorities Fight for Constitutional Rights

The calamitous and chaotic foreign affairs creating a debacle during the past week have pushed disastrous decisions of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) into the background. One of the worst is DDT’s new “gag rule” that prevents federal funds from any institution that mentions abortion. https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/trump-pushing-domestic-gag-rule-stop-some-doctors-discussing-abortion-nyt?src=newsletter1092354  Until now, the “gag rule” by the federal government has been for only foreign women, but DDT plans to withdraw any federal family planning funds if healthcare workers indicates abortion as an alternative to pregnancy. The man making this decision is so ignorant about health that he doesn’t know the difference between HIV and HPV, even after Microsoft founder Bill Gates explained it to him—twice. (HIV is the virus that causes the disease known as AIDS, and HPV is the human papillomavirus causing genital warts and cancer.)

As DDT plans to put high tariffs on car imports, he forgets that some of these are “Made in the USA.” Foreign automobile companies employ people in Southern “right-to-work” states because car manufacturing is cheaper there than in their own countries. As usual, the battle is between hardline trade adviser Peter Navarro and his opponents, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett. DDT is on his customary pattern of intimidating people and distracting the media from his personal problems.

Minimum wages in Mexico are part of the NAFTA negotiations. Imported cars to the U.S. are tariff-free if 62.5 percent of the content comes from North America, but DDT wants to make that 75 percent and then require 40 percent of a car to be made by works earning at least $16 per hour. The question is whether U.S. workers would get $16 hourly wage too, especially because 21 states use the federal $7.25 minimum wage.

DDT is making Europe the leader in international carbon monitoring by canceling the NASA greenhouse gas monitoring program. Supporting 65 projects, the program costs $10 a year—about three of DDT’s weekends in Mar-a-Lago.

The DOJ has removed language about press freedom and racial gerrymandering from its manual of policy priorities. The first changes in over two decades removed the section called “Need for Free Press and Public Trial” which included “the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused.” Employees are now required to report “any contact with a member of the media about a DOJ matter.” This section was also removed:

“The Voting Section defends from unjustified attack redistricting plans designed to provide minority voters fair opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and endeavors to achieve racially fair results where courts find…that redistricting plans constitute unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

Fox has put the press for sale. Donald Trump Jr.’s new girlfriend is Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle who sells Jr.’s daddy, the man in the Oval Office.

DDT is investigating the possibility of using a Korean War-era law to support coal and nuclear industries. The Defense Production Act of 1950 allows a president to nationalize private industry to guarantee resources during wars or after disasters and classifies energy as a “strategic and critical material.” Taxpayers will pay the bill. In his bid for re-election, blue-dog Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is asking that the statute be invoked for the “security of our nation.” If he is successful in creating a manufactured crisis, pro-coal politicians can make customers pay for profits and shareholder values of failing coal companies and owners of nuclear fleets. (I think it’s called a “bailout.”)

Israeli lawmakers have given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the authority to declare war with only the defense minister’s approval. DDT is surely paying attention with the possibility that he will get the same authority.

Transgender prisoners are more accessible to sexual abuse, assault, death and all forms of discrimination after DDT ordered the Bureau of Prisons to assign housing by “biological sex.” Guidance on medical care and hormone therapy now includes the word “necessary.” New DDT/VP Mike Pence orders conflict with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, signed into law by George W. Bush.

The NFL has ruled that football players cannot kneel on the field although they can stay in the locker room during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In addition to the First Amendment violations of this ruling, several states “have laws that bar private employers from retaliating against employees because of their political activity,” according to law professor Eugene Volokh. In 1934, a German football team was banned from playing because it wouldn’t give the Nazi salute. In 2017, 19 state legislatures considered bills to make protesting illegal; three of the states passed these into law.

DDT’s signature on a resolution repealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s auto-lending guidance revokes protection for minority customers from predatory practices. For the first time, Congress used the Congressional Review Act to pass a resolution revoking a federal agency’s informal guidance. The resolution also prevents any protection in the future. Minority customers frequently suffer from higher dealer markups than white customers with similar credit profiles.

White House staff must use cell phones with security features, but DDT refuses any cellphone that cannot easily be hacked. DDT criticizes Hillary Clinton’s private email service, but at least six of his officials follow her practice. GOP House members continue to investigate Hillary Clinton’s secure email server.

DDT insisted that dumping chemicals into clean water will keep “clean, clean water … the cleanest,” but a report proved him wrong, leaving  big companies and the Defense Department liable to huge clean-up costs and reevaluation of water system safety. EPA Scott Pruitt announced the results of the report after three months of concealing the problem of water contaminants, but reporters were banned from attendance. One reporter was shoved out the door, but the information still got into the media.

Most of southeast Wisconsin has been exempted from any federal limits on lung-damaging smog pollution as a favor to Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign centering on his new Foxconn Technology Group factory. Pruitt overruled his agency to stop requirements making improvements in Foxconn’s electronics plant just north of the Illinois border. Pruitt also added to Chicago’s unhealthy pollution problems by reducing the list of counties with dirty air in Illinois and Indiana. Walker blames Chicago for the bad air in Wisconsin.

Water is a concern for DDT appointee Brenda Burman, head of the Bureau of Reclamation that manages the water in the western U.S. The lack of runoff from the Rocky Mountains into the Colorado River, just 42 percent of normal, continues a 19-year dry spell that ranks as the driest on record for the Southwest, part of a drought that also covers the United States. The Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people and waters millions of acres of farmland. Arizona may get a 20-percent cut in water allotment by 2020. Burman didn’t say “climate change,” but she’s worried.

CBS News’ Lesley Stahl said DDT told her why he attacked the press:

“You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

In DDT’s continuing “LieGate” to discredit organizations—pollsters, law enforcement officials, courts, Congressional Budget Office, etc.—he ranted about the New York Times reporting that “’a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist” said that a meeting with Kim Jong-Un on June 12 was impossible because of “lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” On Thursday, that official, ordered to be called a “senior White House official,” briefed dozens of reporters in person and on a conference call about DDT’s cancellation of the meeting. DDT’s false accusation led reporters to circulate videos of Matt Pottinger delivering the message that DDT denies. The man who DDT said “doesn’t exist” overseas Asian affairs in the U.S. National Security Council.

Rudy Giuliani, DDT’s lawyer, has admitted that DDT’s “spygate” is a con to keep him from being impeached. On last Sunday’s CNN State of the Union, he said that it’s for “public opinion” and to “defend the president” by making people “question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation].”

After DDT’s wife spent five days in the hospital for a procedure that usually requires just an overnight stay, he welcomed his wife home by misspelling her name as “Melanie.” At least he didn’t make that mistake on Mother’s Day. DDT praised his late immigrant mother as “incredible” but made no mention of his current immigrant wife and mother of his youngest son. Even DDT’s son Donald Trump Jr. complimented his wife, who he is divorcing. We’ll see what Melania says about Barron’s father.

Three mobile billboards with art by Michael D’Antuono circled the Capitol earlier in May. Tourists interviewed for a media documenting the artist’s caravan agreed with his message, that people need to worry more about protecting democracy and less about covering up DDT’s offenses. Respondents may have been thinking about DDT’s removal of the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, voting rights, price equality, reproductive rights, clean water–or any water while DDT lies incessantly about his dishonest behavior.

March 27, 2018

Conservatism on Trial

Lawyers continue to earn salaries from the outrageous edicts of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and GOP laws. Some of the ones from just last week:

Decisions:

Women may legally bare their breasts in public, according to a federal ruling on a 2015 Fort Collins (CO) law preventing female bare breasts in public except for breastfeeding and girls under the age of ten. Fort Collins said that male and female breasts are different and the law is to prevent disrupting order. The group Free the Nipple won’t disband because Fort Collins isn’t giving up.

For the second time, the Supreme Court rejected a GOP request to stop a Pennsylvania court mandate for redrawing the state’s congressional map in a way that removes some of the massive GOP gerrymandered advantage. State legislators considered impeaching the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of redrawing the map, but the Chief Justice, a GOP appointee, may have embarrassed them out of the idea.

Two class-action lawsuits over contaminated water in Flint (MI) can go to trial, according to the Supreme Court. Federal Judge John C. O’Meara earlier ruled that the federal Safe Drinking Water keeps the cases out of his jurisdiction, but the 6th Circuit Court reversed O’Meara’s dismissal and allows plaintiffs to seek monetary damages.

A unanimous SCOTUS ruling sent a case back to the 5th Circuit Court after it ruled that indigent prisoners must expect success to get funding for investigating a case. SCOTUS disagreed. In Ayestas v. Davis, the petitioner, sentenced to death for his part in a 1995 murder during a robbery, claimed ineffective trial and post-conviction counsel.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a new law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the strictest limit in the nation that violates the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) refused to hold special elections for empty legislative seats in violation of state law after a Democrat upset in a January special election. A circuit court judge appointed by Walker told him that he will hold the elections. Walker had erroneously claimed that he didn’t need to hold elections because they didn’t occur in an election year. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald plans to get GOP legislators to overturn the judge’s ruling and called on the state Supreme Court to discipline the judge for “politicizing” her ruling.

A federal judge slapped down the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—again—for wrongly dismissing a 2012 complaint against the conservative American Action Network (AAN) that failed to register as a political committee and report the millions of dollars it spent for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2010 campaign.

New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter ruled that a sexual harassment defamation lawsuit against DDT by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos can proceed. Schecter used the court precedent in a lawsuit against Bill Clinton—that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal courts for unofficial acts”—as the basis for her decision. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal also filed a lawsuit against owner of the National Enquirer, American Media, to be released from her contract to keep quiet about an affair with DDT.

The Supreme Court refused to roll back the ability of federal agencies to interpret their regulations. Under DDT, agencies are pushing abstinence-only regulations affecting women’s reproductive rights, net neutrality, and otherwise burdening people in the U.S. with religious and business-oriented advantages. Even so, ultra-conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch disagreed with the majority.

Ongoing trials:

The “anti-trust trial of the century” has started in the government’s fight against AT&T’s desired $85 billion merger with Time Warner. The merger’s lawyer claimed that they would never charge people more or block any content.

Filings:

Consumer groups are suing DDT for its elimination of standards for treatment of animals if the meat is designated “certified organic.” The Department of Agriculture claims that it lacks the authority and that the regulation would be costly despite the agency’s economic analysis of only minor costs.

Civil rights groups are suing DDT for document about the decision blocking a rule requiring companies with over 100 employees to track wages based on race and gender.

Environmentalist and animal welfare groups are suing DDT on his new stand allowing people to bring elephant trophies into the U.S. after he described big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show.” The new suit is an amendment to an ongoing case against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s lifting the ban last year on lion trophies from Zimbabwe. Zinke’s International Wildlife Conservation Council is composed of “celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and well-heeled trophy collectors,” according to AP. One board member, Peter Horn, co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with DDT’s big-game hunting sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

 

 

Pending:

The strangest case comes from a 1990s capital murder case involving two Native Americans that could restore tribal sovereignty to almost half of Oklahoma for the first time in a century. Patrick Murphy, death-row inmate and member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, claimed that the state cannot try him for the murder of another tribal member on land that was part of the Creek Nation’s reservation. In the late 19th century, Congress took courts, governments, and laws from the Creek Nation and forced them to change tribal lands into privately-owned allotments for the tribe’s members before selling surplus land to white settlers.

Last summer, however, a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court ruled that Congress had never specifically abolished the Creek Nation’s reservation which left it intact. The panel ruled that Royal v. Murphy had to be tried in federal court like other major crimes between Native Americans. In effect, the ruling returned the territory to the tribe and opened the door to other Oklahoma tribes, including the other four of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were all moved from southeastern U.S. on the Trail of Tears that killed over 4,000 people and promised the Oklahoma land in perpetuity. The land for just the Creek Nation comprises 4,600 square miles with 750,000 inhabitants including most of Tulsa. The five tribes together would take over 40 percent of Oklahoma.

Changing the land to reservation would restrict state criminal jurisdiction to minor offenses such as traffic violations. Federal and tribal courts would be in control of all other crimes. State taxation would also be impacted, and oil companies are concerned. Murphy has a lot at stake in this case: federal government bans the death penalty for crimes on tribal land.

In Solem v. Bartlett (1984), the Supreme Court ruled that each reservations keeps its original boundaries unless Congress specifically changes the borders or completely abolishes the reservation. The 10th Circuit ruled that this had not happened “and if it never did, that post–Civil War reservation is still intact.” [Above map showing 1866 boundaries of the Creek Nation.] That ruling stays unless the Supreme Court decides to take the case.

During March, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the man determined to disenfranchise every Democratic voter, took up eight days in court to defend his state law that requires prospective voters to prove their citizenship before they can register. He tried to present new information after the deadline, tried to testify to a document that he couldn’t find, and couldn’t phrase questions for cross examination or impeach a witness. Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in “gamesmanship” and skirting her orders. Calling the 11 illegal voters of 1.8 million on the voter rolls the “tip of the iceberg,” Kobach kept 35,000 people from voting. Kobach stands accused of violating federal law by refusing to register these legitimate voters who signed up to vote through driver’s license offices.

The question of the trial is whether widespread voter fraud is credible, and Kobach had to admit it isn’t. On the first day of his trial, he said that federal databases cannot identify noncitizens—although that was the mission of DDT’s now-disbanded federal commission he headed up to find illegal voters. His witnesses confessed that their research is unreliable because it isn’t subject to peer review and suffers from flawed methodology. The “expert” who testified that noncitizen voting didn’t change the outcome of the popular vote, in opposition to Kobach’s claim about three million noncitizens voting in 2016, and testified that he identified potential noncitizens in Kansas by how “foreign-sounding” a name was. Another “expert” disclosed that his belief in Kansas voter fraud was entirely based on a list of about 30 voters that Kobach’s office gave him and he used incomplete information which could make it appear that more noncitizens tried to vote than those who existed. He, too, could not name any election swayed by noncitizens. Kobach’s legal opponent, Dale Ho (also a “foreign-sounding” name, concluded, “The iceberg, on close inspection your honor, is more of an ice cube.”

Koback’s latest attempt to remove Democratic voters was to tell DDT that the census should ask about everyone’s immigration status. May Kobach be brought down by creatures that he considered much smaller than himself. May he become afraid.

 

April 29, 2016

Thanks to the Bathroom Police, No One Is Safe

Thank you, religious conservatives. You have now given police the right to drag women out of a woman’s bathroom. Here’s a video showing this happening. Oxford (AL) has passed a law allowing transgender people who use the “wrong” bathroom—in the city’s eyes—to be jailed. That was after North Carolina passed draconian laws, including the one keeping transgender people out of facilities that match their gender identities, and then got it signed in less than 12 hours in a special session. That may be fastest that legislators have ever moved.

When North Carolina lawmakers came back into session last Monday, police arrested 54 protesters. People should use the ballot box for their protests, common wisdom has sometimes decreed, but that’s close to impossible in North Carolina because the GOP passed laws to keep progressives from voting. Judge Thomas Schroeder supported the conservatives, eviscerating voting rights for the state’s residents. In his ruling, George W. Bush’s appointee found “little official discrimination to consider” and left in place one of the most regressive and restrictive voting laws in the country that disenfranchised 218,000 North Carolinians, about five percent of registered voters, in the recent primary.

Voter ID laws were enforced differently across the state, polling workers were untrained or overworked, and some voters weren’t allowed to cast provisional ballots. In Durham, the county board of elections had failed to record the correct location of precincts.    Schroeder’s ruling will certainly be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, but a solution may be too late for the 2016 general election. Another problem for overturning the North Carolina bathroom law is the GOP gerrymandering of election districts after the Tea Party took over in the Democratic rout of 2010.

The new law eliminates a Charlotte ordinance that expanded protections for LGBT people, but it goes far beyond just “bathrooms.” No city or county can extend state laws in eradicating discrimination in the workplace and public accommodations. In addition, the minimum wage of $7.25, required by the federal government, cannot be increased anywhere in the state.

North Carolina lawmakers filed legislation Monday to repeal the state’s law, which, since its passage last month, but GOP legislators, in the majority, oppose this attempt. Lawsuits such as the ones filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal may have a better result as might written requests for the law’s repeal. Thus far, 180 businesses have joined to pressure Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature, and a coalition of civil rights, faith and business leaders delivered more than 150,000 signatures to the governor’s office, urging a repeal of the law.

The danger of going to North Carolina and Mississippi which has passed a similar anti-LGBT law under the guise of “religious liberty” has traveled far and wide. The British Foreign Office has updated its travel advisories to caution LGBT travelers about travel in these two states because businesses may refuse service to anyone based on personal beliefs. Small businesses in North Carolina have already started losing business. Outfitter Bicycle Tours reports that inquiries about Asheville area bicycle tours are down by one third. The owner has changed his advertising on social media to tours in California, France, and Italy.

Four conferences in Raleigh which would have brought in $3.5 million have been canceled or scaled back. Cancellation of these conventions and concerts, started by Bruce Springsteen, hurt restaurants, hotels, and small businesses. Twelve groups have canceled events in Wake County, and another 31 are reconsidering their plans, costing the area $36 million. The travel industry brings the state about $21 billion each year.

Recruiting employees is now another problem for North Carolina companies. A big industry in the state is craft beer brewing, but owners fear that people experienced in beer making will be more attracted to California and Colorado after the new law was passed.

The economy several years ago boosted North Carolina, the first Southern state to invest heavily in public and secondary education. By the election of the Tea Party in 2010 and McCrory in 2012, the legislature had raised its Moody’s rating to a triple-A bond because it balanced the state’s books and filled up the rainy day fund. The new GOP regime wiped out services for the poor, hacking away at unemployment benefits and reducing per-pupil-spending by $500 while refusing to expand Medicaid.

toilet paperIn a move reminiscent of the “Flush Rush [Limbaugh]” boycott five years ago, a North Carolina-based advertising agency wants to send the new law down the toilet. Durham-based agency McKinney explained that they are making this action “safer for city plumbing” by printing the law “on rolls of toilet paper.”

After one month of the law, $500 million in corporate investment and tourism dollars are at risk, and as many as 1,000 high-paying jobs, including 400 from a PayPal expansion, have been lost. The National Basketball Association announced that the 2017 All-Star Game won’t be played in Charlotte unless the law is overturned. Google refuses more venture capital in the state, movie-making will be moved out of the state, and the furniture market, an economic cornerstone, will lose thousands of buyers.

Tracking these laws shows that influence from a well-funded network of lawyers called Alliance Defending Freedom is coordinating the cross-country discrimination. Based in Arizona, the group has more than 3,000 allied attorneys and offices around the world headed by Alan Sears, a former Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan. ADF claims involvement in 47 Supreme Court victories, including the Boy Scouts win in banning LGBT people as troop leaders. It describes gay sex as “a distinct public health problem” and defended business owners who deny services to same-gender couples.

Over a year ago, ADF sent letters to school districts recommending a policy that requires transgender students to use private bathrooms or those that correspond with their birth sex. Many lawmakers mirror or copy ADF’s draft in their own bills. North Carolina is one of those states. So are Nevada and Minnesota. Kansas state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook said that they used the ADF model legislation. ADF also offers free legal representation to any district sued for blocking trans students from bathrooms of their choice. The group also sent letters to school administrators in five states, pushing them to overturn policies that would permit trans students to use facilities corresponding with their gender identities.

ADF’s website states that the group “refrains from participating in or promoting any type of legislation” and “does not lobby government officials.” Yet its lawyers have offered testimony and legal analysis to state legislatures in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Colorado in favor of restrictive bathroom bills and against legislation that protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the first states to seriously consider a bathroom bill, back in 2013, was Arizona—where the ADF is headquartered.

A counter-backlash has evolved from individuals and organizations supporting the rights of transgender people. The Gill Foundation recently funded a study examining methods of changing voters’ minds about transgender people through door-to-door canvassing. Freedom for All Americans’ Transgender Freedom Project focuses on building support for transgender people and nondiscrimination laws that protect them. Organizations are collecting stories of transgender people and holding training sessions to use for media campaigns and rallying at statehouses. The Arcus Foundation and the NoVo Foundation have begun a multi-year $20 million project to increase visibility as well as the quality of life for transgender people globally.

Kendall BalentineKendall Balentine, resolved to live her retirement quietly in Deadwood (SD), spoke out after her state legislature passed a bill forcing transgender students into bathrooms wrong for their gender identities. The former Marine and deputy sheriff decided she would put herself into harm once again to fight for people without a voice. She has joined a movement to expand minority civil rights protections to transgender people.

Balentine met with Gov. Dennis Daugaard and told him that she compensated for her feminine feelings as a child by becoming an “uber male.” After her disciplinarian, Vietnam-veteran dad told her that her feelings about being a girl were unwelcome and unnatural, she dated many women, immersed herself in athletics, and volunteered for the riskiest assignments in the military and law enforcement. Her “wall of lies” made her “want to die.” She moved with her wife Pam to an isolated property near Mt. Rushmore and decided to transition. Her wife stayed with her, and her father accepted her. One week after Balentine talked with Daugaard, he vetoed the bill to discriminate against transgender people.

Tomorrow: How the new hate laws endanger the health and lives of transgender people.

March 15, 2016

Voter ID Laws, Solution in Search of a Problem

Pundits are calling today the “make or break” day for the GOP, depending on whether Donald Trump sweeps the five major states with primaries—Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio. Democrats are waiting to see if Bernie Sanders does better in these states than in the polls. People eligible to vote who can fill out their ballot are lucky. In the United States, GOP legislatures and governors have kept almost six million people from exercising this constitutional right.

Florida is a prime example. Over ten percent of adults—including one in four Blacks—are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Three-fourths of them are released from prison either under probation, on parole, and with completed sentences, but the law requires them to wait five to seven years after the completion of their sentences to apply to vote, a process that can then take eight to ten years.

Trump and other Republicans likely call these felons “bad, bad people.” Felonies in Florida, however, are very easy to come by. Offenses include disturbing turtle nesting eggs, driving with a suspended license, burning a tire in public, trespassing on a construction site, and releasing helium-filled balloons in the air, according to Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Released from prison in 2004, he cannot even practice law in Florida although 48 other states would permit him to apply to the bar.

In only one Tennessee county, 19,000 people were purged from the registered voter list because they had not voted for three years. Federal law allows purging but only after eight years. Voters won’t know they have been purged until they go to the polls when it’s too late for them to register to vote.

Georgia is being sued for illegally purging tens of thousands of voters from the rolls while it plans to eliminate hundreds of thousands of more legal voters. The National Voter Registration Act blocks states from purging voter rolls for failure to vote, but Georgia has put over 800,000 names on the inactive list with the intent to purge them.

This year’s presidential election is  the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the first since the Supreme Court destroyed major parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act intended to protect minority voters in states with racist election laws. Sixteen states passed restrictive voting laws starting an hour after the decision was released. During the March 1 Super Tuesday, over 500,000 Texans—mostly poor and minority—lacked the correct ID to vote. This restriction may have impacted the Democratic primary because the majority of “voters of color” will most likely register for this party.

Kansas got rid of voters by requiring either a birth certificate or passport in order to vote. Even a 13-year military veteran who owns his home and registers in Kansas lacked the appropriate ID. Brian Newby, the new executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and friend of the man who instigated the Kansas law, unilaterally changed the instructions for the online voting form in three GOP states–Kansas, Georgia and Alabama—without knowledge of the agency’s commissioners who chose him. Newby’s edict kept over 30,000 Kansans from voting. In 2014, Kansas spent $250,000 searching for voter fraud and found zero cases. It finally found three people who had residences in two different states and mistakenly voted in both states—although not for president.

North Carolina’s voter ID laws are now on trial after 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sued the state. The black woman voted in every election during the past 70 years since she had to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution after a two-hour trip to the county courthouse before she could be registered. To get registered for the current election she had to make ten trips to the DMV, drive over 200 miles, and spend over 20 hours to get the correct ID because her driver’s license didn’t exactly match her voter registration: the driver’s license omitted Rosanell Johnson Eaton’s middle name, and the license listed her birth date as 1921 instead of 1923.

Young registered voters are also negatively impacted by North Carolina’s voter ID law, used for the first time today. Of the 218,000 residents in the state, about five percent, many are college students blocked from the polls. They reported being forced to use provisional ballots which may not be counted. Law allows people who register to vote within 90 days of Election Day to use an out-of-state ID to vote, but the same policy does not go for those who register more than 90 days ahead. Black voters comprise 22 percent of North Carolina voters and 26 percent for those who have an impediment for not having the required ID. Today voters can use precincts outside their normal one because of a court injunction, but the same does not hold true in November because it was eliminated by GOP legislation. Same-day registration is also eliminated after today.

A Wisconsin woman couldn’t vote because she couldn’t use her hands to sign a document to get a voter ID. Wisconsin had seven cases of fraud among three million votes in 2004, before the voter ID law. In 2014, the state Supreme Court found the voter ID law imposes severe burdens on some voters, but Gov. Scott Walker has purchased new justices since then. The state, like South Carolina, adopted new procedures which on the face of the new law seem to help but are not widely known and do not provide any assistance. People simply give up in anger and frustration. These changes, however, are enough to keep the federal government from closing down the overly harsh voting laws.

Even poll workers don’t know the law. Texas allows identification from voters whose names on the rolls are “substantially similar” to photo ID, but misspellings on a voter registration card are enough to disenfranchise voters. The same poll workers also fail to offer provisional ballots.

A recent study found that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place” as opposed to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Some Texans will have even more trouble voting  after the 5th Circuit Court, the most conservative federal appeals court in the U.S., vacated a three-judge panel decision that the ID law disproportionately targeted black and Latino voters in order for a full-court review. The long delay between the panel’s ruling and the court’s decision to hear the case may indicate that the ten GOP judges are worried about a U.S. Supreme Court decision after Antonin’s Scalia’s death. Without a SCOTUS decision, the 5th Circuit makes law for Texas.

Voting has been a contentious issue since the Founding Fathers allowed only land-owning white men to participate. As more and more people were permitted this constitutional right, conservatives became more and more nervous—claiming that not everyone should have this “privilege.” The Koch brothers, who plan to provide almost $1 billion to elect their private politicians, have collected hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress non-conservative voting. The charge to repeal the Voting Rights Act came from Koch-supported think tanks. The laws restricting voting came from and were underwritten by Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

At this time, however, the Koch brothers has a serious problem—Donald Trump. They’ve managed to get rid of some Democratic voters, but the Republicans are gathering behind Trump. The brothers selected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as their choice for a few minutes but moved on after he made some ill-advised comments. Last summer, the Kochs refused to give Trump any of their data or let him speak at their gatherings. The big problem is that Trump doesn’t need the Koch brothers, and the masterminds behind voter restrictions have eliminated many people who would vote against them. In desperation, the Koch brothers assigned their top political operative, Marc Short, to Marco Rubio’s campaign last month. Too little, too late because Rubio dropped out of the race tonight.

Meanwhile the Koch brothers are intent on selecting the next Supreme Court nominee and destroying the nation, one state at a time, while crying that they want “civil justice.”

After President Obama criticized voting restrictions in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to defend the discrimination—like most other Republicans—by crying voter fraud. Yesterday, he tweeted a link to a Dallas Morning News article supporting his false claim. In fact, the report stated that of the 80 cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the past 14 years, “only a handful of those cases involved the kind of in-person voter fraud that Texas’ voter ID law aims to stop.” Its research shows that “fewer Texans commit in-person voter fraud than get struck by lightning.” A comprehensive study found there are “fewer than three” alleged instances of fraud for every 1 million votes cast in the Lone Star State since 2000.

Republicans would probably say “not my problem.”

December 23, 2015

New Gov. Bevin Gives Kentucky Lumps of Coal

 

 

MinWageIncrease2016

US_minimum_wage_map.svgEighteen states are raising the minimum wage in 2016, 14 on January 1 and four others later in the year. At $10 an hour, California and Massachusetts the highest rates; Arkansas has the lowest increase, going up $7.50, $.25 over the federal rate in 21 states, last changed in 2009. Eight states are indexed to the cost of living which did not increase this year.

Of the 21 states that must follow the federal rate because they have no minimum wage or law puts it below federal rate, most are in the South.  [Map for 2015: Green – higher than federal rate; blue – same as federal rate; red – lower than federal rate; yellow – no minimum wage; Arkansas created minimum wage since map was published.]

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin responds to a question during a press conference in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

 (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky and its newly elected Tea Party governor belong to the bottom 21 states. Some of the approximately 16 percent of eligible voters who elected Matt Bevin as governor, only the third Republican since World War II, will soon going to suffer from buyer’s remorse if they aren’t already doing so. Bevin’s actions show what can happen if the United States elects a Republican president.

One of five orders Bevin issued on December 22, two weeks after his inauguration, was to lower the minimum wage for state workers and contractors to $7.25. Rent on an average one-bedroom apartment in the state would require a person to work a 60-hour week. He also stated that he doesn’t believe in minimum wage, that “wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government.” The top one percent could make even more by dropping their wages to the dollar-a-day that “free market” sets in the Third World. The danger there is that people couldn’t buy their products—even food.

Tipped state workers are even worse off. Last summer, the former governor raised the hourly wage for waiters and waitresses at state parks from $2.19 to $4.90. Bevin put them back at $2.19 an hour.

In addition to declaring a moratorium on hiring state employees, Bevin reversed Beshear’s practice of requiring merit employee actions be approved by the secretary of the governor’s Executive Cabinet. Bevin’s order also requires a review of all vacant positions in any agency to determine their necessity. In addition, he eliminated the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which advised the governor’s office on merit employee wages and terms of employment. The council was established by Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, disbanded by his successor Republican Ernie Fletcher and re-established by Beshear.

When former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear restored voting rights to at least 140,000 with felony convictions, Kentucky was one of just three states that permanently disenfranchised all people with felony convictions. An early action by Bevin was to again disenfranchise all these people after they have paid their debt to society. Bevin had campaigned last year on restoring these people’s rights, but he reversed his earlier opinion. In Kentucky, one in five blacks lost their voting rights after conviction, compared with one in 13 nationally.

In another order, Bevin saved Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from future jail terms by ordering the state to remove names of county clerks from marriage licenses. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins, whose office serves the state’s second largest city, Lexington, said Bevin may have exceeded his authority because these licenses, a civil transaction, require clerks’ names for historical record. Another legal issues comes from the altered marriage licenses issued to couples in Rowan County since September that don’t include Davis’ name or the name of the county. Because of a question about their legality, the ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge David Bunning to order Davis to reissue the licenses, but Bunning has not yet made a ruling.

Nationally, the most controversial of Bevin’s actions comes from his declaration that he would eradicate health care for Kentucky residents. The state has been touted as an icon of improvement in health care, but Bevin pulled all ads for the state health exchange, Kynect. The earliest that he could shut down Kynect would be in 2017 because the law requires a 12-month notice to the government. Changing to the federal health care exchange, as Bevin has suggested as a possibility, would be more expensive than Kynect. Its annual budget of $28 million is funded by a one-percent assessment on health premiums. A federal exchange requires 3.5 percent in assessment, and dismantling Kynect would cost the state an estimated $23 million.

Some of the people who voted for Bevin are worried about the loss of their health care, but others think that people don’t deserve Medicaid. One of the latter is Angel Strong, an unemployed nurse, who went on Medicaid after she lost her job. “I had never had Medicaid, because I had insurance at my job,” said Strong. “Now I am out of a job and I am looking for another job, but in the meantime I had no income.” Medicaid recipient Strong doesn’t want other people to get Medicaid. She says that they need “tough love” because “[people] want everything they can get for free.” Most of Strong’s neighbors in Jackson County also need financial help for health insurance coverage, but most of these people didn’t consider their loss when they voted.

Rick Prario, 54, found he was eligible for Medicaid after losing his longtime job at a hardware store, but he’s angry because he had to pay the law’s tax penalty for going uninsured in 2014 when he was still working. During that time he skipped treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis, treatment that he now receives on Medicaid. His plan now is to quality for disability that he sees as a surer thing than Medicaid.

During two terms with former Gov. Beshear, the unemployment fell to a 14-year low, and the state’s uninsured rate dropped by over 40 percent. The new GOP governor was exposed as a “con man” and a “pathological liar” during his failed senatorial primary run against Mitch McConnell earlier this year. Among other actions, he failed to pay taxes, got a $200,000 federal grant for a fire in his Connecticut business, told people that he was unaware that he was actually attending a cockfight, claimed graduation from MIT—the list goes on and on. The GOP was so disenchanted with Bevin that they failed to support him for the governor’s race.

Bevin’s lies don’t end there. He’s accused Beshear of leaving Kentucky “burdened with a projected biennial budget shortfall of more than $500 million” despite the million in surplus.

The new governor won’t have an easy term. He has to deal with the only state House of Representatives in a Southern state controlled by Democrats. His first strategy was to appoint Democratic legislators to other positions that paid more, but Speaker Greg Stumbo is fighting Bevin’s takeover in all the issues that drive Kentucky backward. For example, Bevin has promised to repeal state taxes on inventory and inheritances with no plans to replace the revenue.  Bevin’s secretary of state and attorney general are both elected Democrats. AG Andy Beshear is the former governor’s son.

coalBevin may have won because he isn’t a “career politician” (although rigging the voting computers may have had some influence). Kentucky will now have a “laboratory experiment” for people who think that people with no experience and education in a profession will do a better job. By now, however, people may be learning that their Christmas stockings contain lumps of coal instead of something to make their lives better. As the website for Kentucky for Kentucky state, “Nothing says ‘I do not approve of you,’ like a real live chunk of Kentucky’s filthiest export.” It’s too late for this year, however, because they’re sold out, but there’s probably enough lying around in the state that the new governor can find.

Today, December 23, is Festivus Day, made famous by scriptwriter Dan O’Keefe, who wrote for Seinfeld. Celebrated with an aluminum Festivus pole, the holiday includes “Airing of Grievances.” People living in Kentucky will have lots to air for this year’s Festivus Day and most likely much more by Festivus Day 2016, especially those 400,000 people who may lose health care because of Matt Bevin. And the 140,000 who lose the right to vote. And the people who lose salaries and pensions. And ….

September 6, 2014

Good News for the Past Week

The Israelis didn’t kill any Palestinian children or other civilians last week, the U.S. Congress wasn’t in town to start World War III, and  the Department of Justice plans to investigate the police force at Fersugon (MO).  That’s a few of the good things that happened last week. Locally, the best news is that the conservative Freedom Partners (aka Koch brothers) pulled over $1 million of television ad buys in October for GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby. Ads starting last month continue through the end of this month, but a Rasmussen poll showing incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley ahead by 13 points may have discouraged more than the $1.6 million expenditure for Wehby.

On the national level, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit Halbig v. Burwell that would have taken insurance from almost 10 million people in the nation. The argument was whether some wording in the Affordable Care Act meant that only the 14 state-run exchanges could provide subsidies for low-income people seeking insurance. If the earlier decision had held, ACA might be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court because of differing circuit court rulings. The en banc (entire court) order vacates the earlier three-judge decision, infuriating conservatives because the court is “packed” with Democratic nominees. The “packed” conservative SCOTUS never seems to bother conservatives. Arguments are scheduled for December 17.

The ACA has gotten so popular that at least one Democrat, Arkansas’ Sen. Mark Pryor, is boasting about it in a tough re-election fight. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS weak response is that good benefits don’t matter if they’re part of “Obamacare.” Pryor’s opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, showed his desperation by accusing Pryor of voting for Medicare “cuts” through the ACA, a common conservative lie. As Pryor states in his TV ad: “My opponent knows I did not cut Medicare benefits. I cut waste and protected benefits.

At the same time, more GOP-run states are accepting federal Medicaid funding through ACA, bringing the total number of states to 27, ten of them with GOP governors.  Pennsylvania outright accepted the funding last week, Tennessee plans to do so, and other states—Indiana, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming—are considering the same step.

DB_medicaid_map_lg In another fit of desperation, a state representative from Utah, who is a doctor when not debating in legislature, has a unique argument against health care. “Sometimes access actually can mean harm,” said Utah Rep. Mike Kennedy. “I’ve heard from National Institutes of Health and otherwise that we’re killing up to a million, a million and a half people every year in our hospitals. And it’s access to hospitals that’s killing those people.”

Even more upsetting to conservatives, insurance costs are not rising as fast as in the past and in some places are actually going down. When Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield tried to raise premiums by 12.5 percent, the Connecticut insurance department made them lower the average premium to a 0.1 percent decrease. California, which has seen increases of up to 40 percent in the past, will have an average increase of 4.2 percent. Oregon saw a drop of 2.5 percent. If Halibig v. Burwell were allowed to stand, people using the federal exchange would have an increase of 322 percent (and that’s not a typo!).

A ruling from another circuit court, the 7th, brought marriage equality to Indiana and Wisconsin. That’s the third federal appeals court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. The 10th Circuit struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah, and the 4th Circuit ruled against bans in Virginia. The 6th Circuit, deciding on bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee heard arguments a month ago. In the 7th Circuit decision, Judge Richard A. Posner used a variety of sources, including 19th-century English political philosopher and social commentator John Stuart Mill, to respond to the states’ arguments that many people find same-sex relationships repulsive.  Posner wrote:

 “Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.”

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman, the 80-year-old Reagan appointee who’s been on the bench for over 30 years, might want to read Posner’s quote. In Louisiana, Feldman became the first in a string of over 20 federal judges to rule against equality on the basis that same-sex couples cannot procreate. One could ponder whether Louisiana has a law that fertility and desire to bear children are prerequisites to marriage. Feldman is one of those people who believe in human rights by popular vote.

In another decision in Louisiana, Federal Court judge Carl Barbier ruled that BP was “grossly negligent” leading up to the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With proper care, the company and its subsidiaries could have prevented the explosion and oil spill that killed 11 and spilled 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters. BP is 67% negligent for the spill, and oil-service company Halliburton and rig owner Transocean are 30% negligent.

fire BP

According to the ruling, BP made decisions that were completely unsafe and “motivated by profit.” For example, BP drilled 100 feet deeper, just eleven days before the disaster, although the company’s geologists warned against it. The negative pressure reading on the morning of the explosion should have led to more safety tests. Instead, officials decided to continue working. The explosion occurred that evening.

Under the Clean Water Act, a corporation acting in a grossly negligent manner can be fined up to $4,300 per barrel spilled: the cost of the civil case could be as much as $18 billion. BP plans to appeal. Shares of BP in the United States dropped 5.9 percent at $44.89 and closed down almost 6 percent in London, the worst one-day slide in more than four years. BP has already agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and may face other bills from a Natural Resources Damage Assessment.

Louisiana’s five women’s clinics that perform abortions will stay open, thanks to a ruling from U.S. Federal Judge John deGravelles.  A new law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles was to go into effect last Monday, but the judge ruled that doctors can continue to perform legal abortions if they are seeking these privileges. The judge will hold a hearing within a month to make a more permanent ruling.

Judge Lee Yeakel helped Texas women by striking down the state’s “brutally effective system of abortion regulation.” The overturned law required all women’s clinics to be outfitted as ambulatory surgical centers, costing each one between $1 million and $1.5 million. Yeakel, a George W. Bush appointee, tried to block the law mandating admitting privileges last fall but was overruled by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He did succeed in stopping the rule for admitting privileges in McAllen and El Paso.

Ohio’s cuts to early voting and the state’s elimination of same-day voter registration violate both the Voting Rights Act’s ban on racial discrimination in voting and the constitution’s Equal Protection clause, according to U.S. Federal Judge Peter Economus. An injunction barring the Ohio’s restrictions on voting go into effect before the November election, and the judge ordered the state’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.

not darren wilson This photo is NOT Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) a month ago, despite Chicago firefighter Kevin O’Grady’s claim. For the record, the photo, which went viral, is of motocross rider Jim McNeil who died in a 2011 crash. The photo was taken in 2006 after a motor accident at a friend’s house. There is no indication that Wilson suffered injuries. In another bogus photo posted by Kansas City Police Department Officer Marc Catron, an image of Michael Brown pointing a gun at the camera and biting down on a wad of cash is actually of Joda Cain, a Washington County (OR) murder suspect.

Police Chief Tom Jackson has also been found to lie about his reason for releasing a videotape of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store. Jackson had said that he did thie because of a Freedom of Information Act request. There were actually no requests, but requests have not led Jackson to release the incident report for Brown’s killing. There is also some evidence that the police omitted images of Brown paying for the cigars from the video.

The best news for Leon Brown and Henry McCollum is that DNA has exonerated them from charges for rape and murder. The two men, on North Carolina’s death row for over 30 years, have been released from prison. Ages 15 and 19 at the time of their arrest in 1983, the two mentally challenged men were told that they could go home if they confessed to the crimes. Now that they are 46 and 50, biological material collected at the crime scene has been connected to a known sex offender who lived just feet away from where the 11-year-old girl was found. Since their arrest, the police force has also hidden boxes of crucial evidence and not disclosed it to either the defense team or the prosecuting attorney.

Twenty years ago, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia used the McCollum to justify the death penalty in an unrelated case. He said, “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with [rape and murder]!” Justice Harry Blackmun answered, “Buddy McCollum … has an IQ between 60 and 69 and the mental age of a 9-year old. He reads on a second grade level. This factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in his case is unconstitutional.” Now McCollum will not have to suffer the “quiet death by lethal injection.”

Voting, women’s rights, health care, death penalty, marriage equality, transparency–all these are beginning to succeed because of the judicial system. Now we’ll wait for the appeals.

September 2, 2012

Good News on the Voting Restriction Front

During Condoleezza Rice’s speech last Wednesday at the GOP convention, she said that “failing neighborhood schools” are the “civil rights struggle of our day.” She must have skipped the news since the last election about the number of states that are removing voting rights from minorities (and many others) through draconian restrictions of voting.

This last week, however, saw a movement toward correcting the injustices of this past two years when federal judges, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, struck down these laws in six different rulings in Ohio, Florida, and Texas. Sunday has a tradition of spreading the “good news,” and this Sunday finally has good news.

Florida: A three-judge court restored early voting in five counties that are subject to the Voting Rights Act. An even more important ruling voids the state law that prevents groups such as the League of Women Voters from registering new voters because of drastic restrictions on them—a 48-hour time frame on submitting registration forms as well as fines against organizations and individual volunteers who violated the new guidelines.

Ohio: The state is required to open election polls on the weekend before Election Day. Early voting began in Ohio after the long waits in 2004 for voting. In 2008, almost 100,000 people cast their vote on the Sunday before Election Day, many of them people who had to work during the week. The judge cited Bush v. Gore (the decision that appointed George W. Bush president in 2000) in restoring this early voting.

Another Ohio achievement was the ruling that the state has to count votes cast in the wrong precinct because of mistakes made by election officials. Ohio had said that votes cast in the wrong precinct could be discarded even when the voter went to the right polling place and was told to go to another, wrong, place. In the last general election, approximately 14,000 votes were not counted because of election official mistakes.

Texas: Federal judges struck down both a strict new photo identification requirement and the election redistricting that undercut the voting power of Latinos and blacks.

South Carolina is fighting the Voter Rights Act because the state is among the 16 jurisdictions with historic voting rights violations that require approval from the Justice Department to alter election procedures. The case has gone badly for South Carolina. State Rep. Alan Clemmons (R), denied that the bill was motivated by any desire to hurt minority voters, but civil rights attorney Garrard Beeney presented evidence that Rep. Clemmons had responded positively to a racist email from one of his constituents about the bill. Sen. George “Chip” Campsen III testified at length about alleged cases of fraud he had heard about but could not cite any instances of fraud related to voter impersonation.

Other states or parts of states challenging the Voting Rights Act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Unfortunately, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have indicated sympathy for these states.

In Tennessee, Memphis is suing the city, Tennessee’s photo identification requirement for voting for “imposing an undue burden on registered Tennessee voters’ right to vote.”

Working people’s fighting against conservatives to gain and keep the Constitutional right to vote is nothing new in the United States as shown in Alexander Keyssar’s The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Originally, only men, primarily white, who owned, not leased, a certain amount of property could vote in this country. Only Vermont, which gained statehood in 1791, had no property or tax requirements for voting. During the early 19th century, veterans mobilized to gain the right to vote, and Western states loosened the requirements. In Wisconsin, even non-citizens could vote if they said they would become citizens.

Conservatives, fearing that the urban factory workers would overrun the country, pushed against the workers’ rights. The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic movement especially hostile to the Irish controlled voted through literacy tests, long residency requirements, and long waits for new citizens to gain voting rights, wanting 21 years but compromising on two years in Massachusetts

Even after the Civil War, blacks could not vote in 15 states and territories in 1870. The 14th Amendment declared “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” to be citizens and prohibited states to deny citizens “equal protection of the laws.” It didn’t address voting, but the 15th Amendment did. When political alliances between blacks and poor whites threatened the power of the local elites, the conservatives created the “Jim Crow” system of strict racial segregation and the end of black civil and political rights, violently enforced by Ku Klux Klan terrorism and one-party rule by ultra-racist Democrats. Poll taxes and literary tests could disenfranchised many poor whites, and the country failed to enforce the 15th Amendment until the 1960s.

Meanwhile California had banned anyone born in China from voting, and other state constitutions barred “paupers” from voting to prevent striking workers or the unemployed during the depressions of the latter half of the 19th century. Other states determined that Native Americans were not citizens because they lived on reservation land outside the state’s jurisdiction. By the early 20th century they were allowed to vote if they severed their tribal connections and sold tribal lands to non-Indians.

Women didn’t vote in federal elections until 1920 although 17 states, over one-third of the United States, permitted voting within the states. The Voting Rights Act expanded the absolute right to vote in 1965, requiring, for example, New York to drop its literacy test to keep many Puerto Ricans from voting. The 24th Amendment permanently banned poll taxes, and the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 mandated allowing voter registration by mail and in government offices such as motor vehicle bureaus.

A common ploy in this century to keep people from voting has been the purges of voter lists. Florida started this in 2000 where they disenfranchised many people with names similar to that of an ex-convict and used the excuse that it was legal because convicted felons cannot vote in that state. After an extremely close—and mis-managed—vote in Florida, the Supreme Court ruled that “the individual citizen has no constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States…” State legislatures can allow voters to choose the states’ electors who vote for president in the Electoral College, said the five justices, but the legislature can also “take back the power to appoint electors.”

Conservatives have been open about not wanting minorities, seniors, students, disabled, and the poor to vote. The following quotation from Matthew Vadum in American Thinker is just one example:

“Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians.  Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery. Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.  It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country — which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.”

How ironic that federal law defines the ages of people who vote but not their felony status or their ability to get a photo ID. If people are supposedly rehabilitated because they have served their time, they should be able to take their full place in society. And photo IDs have not stopped any fraud. I’m grateful that I live in Oregon where felons can vote once they leave prison and where we all vote by mail. When the law was first passed, I worried about fraud and coercion. Any possibility of that is far overshadowed by the restrictions that conservatives have placed on the majority of U.S. citizens.

A judge in the Texas case said, “As the Supreme Court has ‘often reiterated…voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure.’ Indeed, the right to vote free from racial discrimination is expressly protected by the Constitution.”

Cheers for Vermont, the only state that upholds the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.

 

December 20, 2011

Conservatives Fraudulently Disenfranchise Voters

The minute that the Republicans took over a majority of the states in this country, they laid the groundwork to keep a Democrat president from being elected through constrictive laws demanding photo IDS and gerrymandering the House districts. Other laws shorten early voting period, ban in-person early voting on Sundays, and prohibit boards of election from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters. Two other states have disenfranchised criminals who have paid their time and are now contributing members of society. All this is in the name of voter fraud. In 38 states.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters as well as on voters with disabilities, sharply tilting the election results in the coming year. The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2011—63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

Not having photo IDs has already been a problem for voters. After Indiana passed its law in 2008, a group of retired nuns who had always voted were turned away from the primary election because they lacked proper photo identification.

Getting a photo ID will be either expensive and/or impossible for up to 5 million U.S. citizens who have voted in past elections. An example is the Wisconsin law that requires photo ID from anyone who goes to the polls to vote. Although the state ostensibly offers a “free” photo ID to its residents, a birth certificate is necessary in order to obtain it. Copies of birth certificates cost at least $20—if it’s available.

Ruthelle Frank, an 84-year-old Wisconsin woman who, because of a difficult home birth, doesn’t have an official birth certificate now must pay as much as $200 to get one simply to satisfy the “free” photo ID requirements. To get a birth certificate, she has to have a photo ID. In Tennessee, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper was refused a voter ID because she didn’t have her marriage certificate.

Republicans virtuously claim voter fraud as the reason for demanding photo IDs. A friend pointed out that Indiana recently discovered this problem, but the case she referenced was someone possibly falsifying names in a petition to put Barack Obama on the ballot for the presidential candidate in 2008. It wasn’t voter fraud.

To support the suspicion of fraud, the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) searched for all the cases of voter fraud that have been prosecuted over the last decade. They found 311 cases. That’s an average of 31 cases annually out of a vast number of people who voted—131 million in 2008, for example.

Examining the RNLA’s report showed a bit of “fraud” in the results. RNLA citations actually went back to 1997. It claimed fraud in 46 states but cited only 44 states. For two of those 44 states there were no examples since 2000. That lists only 42 states in the past decade, indicating no fraud in the other eight states. After the claim that Florida had at least 17 cases involving prosecutions for non-citizen voting in 2005, RNLA failed to follow up with the information that at least four of those cases were dismissed. And these are Republicans looking for fraud!

The Justice Department shows 86 proven cases over the past decade. That’s 8.6 a years, resulting in punitive laws from almost half the states in the country. In Wisconsin, seven of the approximately 3 million votes cast in 2004 were deemed invalid–all from felons who were unaware of their ineligibility. Comedian Stephen Colbert recently mocked the need for photo ID laws, noting that fraud occurs in “a jaw dropping 44 one-millionths of one percent” of votes.

Paul Schurick, an aide to former Maryland Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has been convicted of attempted voter suppression—which may come under the auspices of voter fraud. During the 2006 gubernatorial election, Schurick tried to use robocalls to suppress the black vote. Calls to 112,000 voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County on Election Day before polls had closed in Baltimore and Prince George’s County told African American residents to “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had already won the race. Schurick became Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign manager in the 2010 race and had been his communications director for the four years that he was governor.

Wisconsin also has a record of one particular county clerk magically “discovering” ballots in her computer a few days after a less-than-conservative candidate loses. She is the only person with access to that computer.

The Constitution has only two requirements in the redistricting every ten years after the census to allocate House representatives: roughly equal populations and no discrimination against minority voters. Ohio is an example of how Republicans in the majority party are making sure that the state will send mostly Republicans to the House—and incidentally vote for a Republican president. State legislators drew up new maps that favor Republicans in 12 of Ohio’s congressional districts, strengthening the majority of likely Republican supporters in at least 17 house districts. The president of the state senate, Republican Thomas Niehaus, wrote in an e-mail, “I am still committed to ending up with a map that Speaker Boehner fully supports,” even though, as a spokesman said in November, Boehnner “has no official role in the redistricting process.”

Redistricting is expensive because it requires voter data and mapping consultants. It also requires lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states, for people like the Koch brothers who want to own theUnited States. Mysterious groups influencing redistricting are cropping up in a number of states such as Minnesota. These groups don’t have to divulge their financing from far-right funders.

Ironically, voting is not a constitutional right; states can keep people from voting if they wish. The restrictions just cannot be by race, color, or previous condition of servitude (thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment); gender (thanks to the Twentieth Amendment); or by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax (thanks to the Twenty-Fourth Amendment). These restrictions were removed in 1868 (Amendment 15); 1920 (Amendment 20); and 1964 (Amendment 24). For over 50 years, the Constitution was even able to require that voters be male, as specified in the Fourteenth Amendment.

So what the states are doing to remove voting rights from their citizens?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder got his state legislature to give him the right to appoint “emergency managers” for any municipality and void the right of the people there to elect their officials. Ostensibly to cure the fiscal problems of whatever place he takes over. The four “emergency managers” who he has already appointed to Michigan cities may be joined by Detroit. If he succeeds in doing this, half the African-American residents of Michigan will no longer be able to elect their city officials. They will have no say in what happens to the places where they live.

Everyday Republicans who aren’t elected officials are working hard to remove the rights of voters. In Wisconsin, where opponents of Gov. Scott Walker are trying to gather enough signatures to impeach him, supporters have been caught on video jumping out of trucks to threaten circulators, even defacing or ripping up petitions. One Milwaukee man admitted he had signed recall petitions approximately 80 times. Walker supporters also posted a website saying that people could quit signing the petitions because there are enough signatures. There aren’t.

Another way that states cut down on voter involvement is to send out postcards. People who don’t return them are then questioned at the polls about whether they are qualified to vote. Ohio and Michigan were taken to court over this practice during the past decade. Other lists to possibly disqualify voters were created from people whose homes were foreclosed.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler ordered Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz to not send ballots to soldiers out of state who are legally registered Pueblo County voters but who failed to cast ballots in 2010. No notification—just no ballot.

Other tactics are reflected by Mike Huckabee, former Republican presidential candidate, in his joke about making sure that Ohio’s anti-union law passes in the state’s most recently election. Encouraging supporters to call friends and ask if they’re voting for Issue 2, he joked, “If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date,” he said. “That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”

Debating the laws in state legislatures demonstrates the rationale for the laws and the attitude that some legislators have toward some of their constituents. New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker, William O’Brien, described college students as “foolish.”  “Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added. They lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.

Tennessee Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, wondered how “all these people” are able to buy beer and cigarettes without driver’s licenses. “Tell me how people are buying beer and cigarettes? They have to have an ID to do that, a photo ID to do that. I have a hard time believing that all these people don’t have an ID. … You have to have a photo ID to get public housing. You have to have a birth certificate to get public housing. … I think there’s more people with a photo ID than they want to admit.”

Some people are fighting back. Retired Tennessee teacher Lee Campbell and his wife spoke to Congress about their fight for a promised free photo ID under a Republican law demanding ID in order to vote. The DMV tried to charge Campbell $8 for his ID. They are only two, however, of a possible 5 million disenfranchised voters.

In a speech to student activists, Bill Clinton said, “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.”

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have introduced a bill that would impose tough criminal and civil penalties on individuals who make and distribute campaign literature with false information intended to deceive voters and suppress turnout. Let’s see what the Republicans, so concerned about voter fraud, will have to say about this.

There was a time in American history when only white male property owners could vote. Let’s hope that we’re not returning to that era.

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