Saturday, August 18, 2012

Don't Give Up

A federal court ruled that Florida's plan to shorten early voting hours discriminates against black citizens.  Under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, five Florida counties are ordered to restore early voting hours.

Though the court could restore hours only in the five counties specifically covered by that section, which applies to areas where discrimination was practiced before, it's clear that asserting that the new restrictions discriminate against minority voters applies generally.  This might make precedent for other cases, even the Pennsylvania ID law, in federal court.  Whether such a case can be brought and decided in time to affect the November election is unclear but doubtful.

The appeal in Commonwealth court to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was filed on Friday. It may be the last chance for timely legal remedy. Also Friday, its most visible plaintiff, 93 year old Viviette Applewhite, finally obtained her temporary ID card which should enable her to vote in November.

Rabid Right sites immediately chortled at the apparent evidence that the case has no merit, but of course they draw exactly the wrong conclusion.  It was only through an arduous, time-consuming process, with plenty of aid from others and likely some bending of the rules that less publicized cases won't get, that resulted in this outcome.  The photo above shows one early step--obtaining a birth certificate.  The Washington Post describes the last steps:

 Applewhite received her identification card after riding two public-transit buses to a Department of Transportation licensing office and presenting a clerk with her Medicare card from the 1990s, a state document listing her name and Social Security number in her own handwriting, and proof of her Philadelphia address, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
None of the documents, however, linked her birth certificate name of Viviette Virene Brooks to Viviette Applewhite. PennDOT’s licensing bureau director Janet Dolan said Friday that clerks are able to make exceptions to the document requirements and work with applicants.

The Pennsylvania ID law is a blatant effort to take away the voting rights of  minority, student and elderly citizens who are likely to vote for Democrats and President Obama.  But until that obvious violation of a basic American right can be remedied in court or by legislation, people need to look at what this 93 year old woman did to defy the intent of this law and vote anyway.  And they need to do  whatever it takes to make their vote count.

It took her not just weeks or even months but years.  Her message: "You just have to keep trying,” Applewhite said. “Don’t give up.”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Re-Running the Nightmare

The polls are going to be pretty useless for the next month.  The next poll that will say something about the state of the presidential race will be in September, a week after the Democratic convention.  Although of course we will be watching the size of the expected bumps after each convention.

The fact that it's August also leads me to not be so concerned with the "enthusiasm" numbers--which purport to measure how many people of each party say they are engaged in the election.  People who have pretty much made up their mind are unlikely to express a lot of interest in the campaign.  Plus people who don't focus until the fall.

But there are some other indications that do trouble me, especially in relation to GOPer voter suppression laws and their likely effect of preventing people who want to vote from doing so, or at least making it harder.

One is a poll finding I saw sweep by on TV--I don't know how credible it is, but it said that of the people who said they do NOT plan to vote, nearly 50% would vote for Obama, and 20% for Romney.

The other is this Boston Globe story which shows that new Democratic registration in swing states is way behind the 2008 pace, despite vigorous efforts by the Obama campaign, and that Republicans and Independents are registering in greater numbers.  The Obama campaign points out that partly because of those huge gains in 2008, there are fewer unregistered Dems and their overall numbers are good, a point that the Globe story concedes to some extent.  But it is troubling nonetheless.

The nightmare I am starting to relive is 2000.  I remember how a lot of voters, including progressives, entirely spoiled by the Clinton years, felt it wasn't all that important who won the presidency, Al Gore or George W. Bush.  It was ok to make a statement for Nader.  It was ok to not bother to follow the campaign, and especially to not bother to vote. 

We all know how that turned out, and believe me, it turned out only a little worse than I believed it would during that summer and fall leading up to the campaign.  Maybe the emotional tide, fed by extraordinary events and creative outpouring, isn't there this year to propel the Obama campaign.  But there should be one motivating emotion, and that's fear. 

The rights and protections that could dissipate and disappear are staggering--there's been nothing like this threat in my lifetime.  A Romney Ryan presidency would be a greater disaster than eight years of Bush, and on top of those, will weaken this country's ability to respond to future dangers and opportunities to a truly scary degree.

This is a big, diverse country with lots of crosscurrents.  But sometimes, as in 2000, a mood takes over and its like watching the last act of a tragedy.  I don't like that feeling.

There's another motivation to consider as well: that this election more than any in my lifetime, the very act of voting is a powerful statement.  It is a powerful statement not only on behalf of candidates, but on behalf of the right to vote itself.  It is the only weapon we all have equally to defend our rights and our lives, and to promote what we believe is essential for the future.  We are always voting for imperfect people in a pretty corrupt system.  But we can help limit the damage and improve the chances for positive change.  We do this one by one, vote by vote.  But if enough of us do so, we get the better outcome.

To not exercise that right and that power is--this year more than ever--to invite losing that right and that power.  To not do everything in your power to vote this year is to cede the future to oligarchs and fascists, without a fight, and quite possibly, weakening or taking away this potent weapon from future generations.

What few policies and positions the Romney Ryan ticket are taking--those that are not outright lies--are so extreme and destructive that some analysts predict a landslide against them.  Women, Latinos, African Americans, seniors, students, the poor, the middle class--virtually everybody but a small number of rich white men and deranged members of the Rabid Right would pay an enormous price if the policies they advocate were put in place, even partially.   Both men are singularly unprepared to be president and vice-president by any standard of any election in generations.  Their domestic policies are oppressive and destructive, their foreign and military policies are all dangerous bluster and aggressive ignorance.  Yet such is the nature of politics in 2012 that complacency by Democratic voters could hand them the reigns of power.

So this is my nightmare that I am now reliving.  I really don't want this nightmare to be rerunning in 2012.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Democracy's Daylight Robbery

A scene in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 2008 that totalitarian Republicans
 want to make sure doesn't happen in 2012
Some attempted power grabs are subtle.  Some are audacious but obscured--maybe the method is too new to be recognized, or nobody's watching, or everybody is too scared to call it.  But this one is out in the open now, clear as day.

How clear.  Follow the Q & A...

Are any of the new voter ID laws, the new limits on voting times, the attempted purges of registrations, happening in states with Democratic governors and legislatures?

No.  None.

When outside groups who study such things have examined the likely impact of these laws, is there even one case where they say the party more likely to benefit is the Democrats?

No.  None.

What are three crucial states that the Republican presidential ticket must win in order to win the presidency?

Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Did these states go Republican in 2008?


Are there new laws suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters in all three states, estimated by outside groups to be enough to turn the presidential vote to Republican?

Yes.  Even in Pennsylvania, where President Obama won by 750.000 votes and leads in the polls by high single or double digits.  That's because the voter ID is expected to disenfranchise upwards of 15% of the voters in Philadelphia, with the bulk of the state's Democratic votes, and where a lot of people don't need to drive and don't have driver's licenses,  particularly if they are poor or simply can't afford the time and money to go through the process of getting birth certificates etc. and applying for these IDs, in time for the November election.  Disenfranchising this many people in the same city, mostly black and Latino, elderly and young voters, is unprecedented in American history.

Are voter ID laws and these other new laws needed to stop rampant voting fraud?

So contemptuous of its own argument was the PA government that they didn't bother offering evidence of in-person voter fraud in PA, because there isn't any.  The only two cases of voting fraud nationally in the news this year are by Republican officials cheating in other ways.  In-person fraud is rare--only 10 documented cases in the last decade, and several of these were dumb mistakes rather than intended to defraud.

Where in Ohio have there been problems with too few voting machines for the number of people who want to vote, resulting in lines so long that it takes upwards of four hours to vote, and so people who can't devote that much time are effectively disenfranchised?

Cities.  Where there are lots of people. Where there are lots of black, Latino, older and younger voters.   And lots of Democrats.

Where did the Republican administration of Ohio target restrictions on voting hours?

A.  Cities.  Where there are lots of people. Where there are lots of black, Latino, older and younger voters.  And lots of Democrats.

Q If these laws were sincere attempts to limit voter fraud while making sure that people have enough time to learn about the law (which changes how they have voted their entire lives) and to acquire the necessary IDs, especially when the places where they can obtain them have very limited hours and staff, why didn't legislators give reasonable time for all of this and mandate that the law takes effect in 2014 or 2016?

A.  Do I really need to answer that?

 Need I go on?  It could not be clearer what the intent is.  It goes way beyond standard politics to attack the one right all Americans have equally, the most fundamental right in a representative democracy.

Two news notes on this topic.  As I predicted, the Ohio sec of state has mandated uniform voting hours throughout the state--everywhere will have restricted hours, virtually guaranteeing the long lines that threw voting into chaos in 2004 but that did not recur in 2008 because of extended hours and more opportunities for early voting.

Early commentary on the PA case faults the judge's legal theory and the precedent he chose. However the judge made some highly questionable judgments on matters of fact.  He rejected the studies that showed that the law disenfranchises up to 9% of PA voters, and apparently also its disproportionate effect on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Why? On what basis?  He ruled that PA has plenty of time to inform voters of the law (when the PA sec of state testified that she herself did not know what the law says) and voters have plenty of time to get the IDs before the November election, less than three months from now.  Again, on what basis?  Nobody but the Republicans believe this.   The decision isn't just wrong.  It's shameful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Siege of Pennsylvania

The worst possible news on the voter ID law in Pennsylvania--the state judge who heard a strong case to invalidate or even simply stay the law for the 2012 election because it cannot be fairly administered, has upheld the law for November.

This will be appealed to the state supreme court but at least one legal observer believes that this decision will stand.  The PA supreme court has six judges, divided evenly between Dems and Rs. (Think Progress is hopefully noncommittal.)

That this law was upheld is likely now to have a domino effect that allows all such efforts to disenfranchise and limit voting for partisan political purposes to go forward.  This monied party takeover that decides who can vote and who can't--which in effect this law does--is a basic threat to American representative democracy.  It's frightening.  It's clearly a step toward dictatorship by the oligarchy, to American fascism.  Pennsylvania gets a taste of it now. 

But though democracy in Pennsylvania is now wounded it is not dead.  A concerted effort must be made to defy the intent of this law by registering the voters it is supposed to disenfranchise, and delivering the votes it is intended to suppress.  It's time for those billionaires and millionaires out there who actually care more about democracy and their country than they do their fortunes to pony up the money necessary to really see to it that all these people get what they need to be able to vote, and get to the polls.  Because make no mistake about it--democracy is under siege in Pennsylvania, and now the only way to break it is to make this attempt to take over the U.S. government futile.

Ironic that this decision comes on a day in which the Romney campaign is trying to inflame political and racial feelings further by concentrating on a Joe Biden line noting that to unchain the banks again would be to put the people back in chains.  It's a metaphor that applies to all.  But go ahead and apply it to people of color who were enslaved--their chains were finally broken when they got the right to vote.  Now look what's happening.  

Media Climate

There are blogs and sites for everything else but when it comes to the transcendent problem of our age, I have yet to find a really good site for climate information.

Some environmental sites include climate but don't follow the topic exclusively or closely.  Enviro organization sites each have their own issues, and rarely follow what other organizations are doing.  The climate advocacy sites are at best action oriented, or so totally into the social media/twittering world that the information content is low.  High content sites tend to be by scientists and for other scientists.

The Think Progress site, Climate Progress, used to be the closest to a first-read if not must-read for news, information and analysis, but increasingly it's becoming an ego trip and vanity site for its manager, Joe Romm.  It used to feature his likeness at the top, the only Think Progress site to do so, but at least that's gone now.  But at the moment the site is so clotted with fawning posts for his new book that it's embarrassing to even visit.  We're used to cable news hosts and bloggers using their shows and blogs to promote their books, but even by today's weak standards, this site is a scandal.  Even worse, it's not surprising.  The site has been trending this way for some time.  It's too bad.  The topic deserves better. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Poliquips Tuesday

What Romney advisors said to each other in choosing Paul Ryan, according to Lawrence O'Donnell: "Let's grab somebody who stands for something, because we don't."

But Tuesday's goldmine for poliquips came from the Politico piece about how GOPer operatives are near suicidal about the Ryan pick:

"The most cutting criticism of Ryan, shared only by a handful of strategists, is that Ryan isn’t ready to be president — or doesn’t come across as ready. A youthful man who looks even younger than his 42 years, Ryan could end up labeled as Sarah Palin with a PowerPoint presentation, several operatives said."

"Another strategist emailed midway through Romney and Ryan’s first joint event Saturday: “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.”

"This is the day the music died,” one Republican operative involved in 2012 races said after the rollout.

Stop the Attempts to Stop the Vote

Crucial to GOPer election strategy in 2012 is stopping people from voting--mostly minorities and others who usually vote Democratic, but they're willing to lose a few of their own (seniors for instance) as collateral damage.

These efforts were coodinated in states where GOPers had the entire state government, but they are most crucial in the two states where they stole the 2000 and 2004 elections respectively: Florida and Ohio.

And that doesn't even count possible chicanery in vote counting. In Florida in 2000 they purged the registration rolls of thousands of eligible voters and they're trying it again in 2012.  This is not a theory anymore--the former state chairman of the Republican party is saying so in court: GOPers actively sought ways to keep minority citizens from voting.  The U.S. Justice Department has also gone to court with others to challenge Florida voter purges.

The 2004 election turned on Ohio, where on election day lines were several hours long in minority voting districts in the big cities because of not enough voting machines or staff--so long that many left before voting.  That was remedied in 2008 by spreading out the voting over weeks instead of hours.  This year, the Ohio GOPer government wants to roll back early voting, taking away the last weekend before election day.  In 2008, members of black churches went to vote together after services on that Sunday.  The Obama campaign is going to court to restore the full early voting.

But in an even more transparently GOPer political ploy, voting hours have been extended in counties that usually vote GOPer but not in counties with the largest populations, that usually vote Democratic.  The Ohio system has voting hours regulated by county boards comprised of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.  In all counties, Democrats voted to extend voting hours.  But Republicans as a bloc voted for it in all GOPer counties (where it therefore passed unanimously) and against it in all Democratic counties, which resulted in tie votes.  And that tie was broken by Ohio's GOPer secretary of state (the state official in charge of elections) who in every case voted with the local GOPers to restrict hours in Democratic counties--which happen to be the ones with the largest populations, and therefore most in need of extended hours.  

Most of the national attention to this issue so far has been on the many voter ID laws, most recently in the commonwealth of Pennysylvania where the estimated number of voters without the kind of IDs required by the new law is large enough to turn this back into a swing state.  The head GOPer legislator is on record bragging that this law is intended to give the state to Romney.  (And other GOPers are admitting that the very idea of voter ID laws--to allegedly combat the kind of fraud that almost never happens--avoids dealing with the kind that more often does result in fraud, voting by mail--because that's supposed to be how more conservatives vote.)

The Justice Department is investigating whether this law is discriminatory under a seldom used section of the Voting Rights act.  If it proceeds and is successful, it would seemingly apply to other states.  But already the PA law has gone on trial based on the Commonwealth's own constitution, with the state government offering a pitiable defense.  A decision is expected this week. If the PA law is voided or stayed, as it clearly should be, it will send a strong message to other states and other courts that this fundamental American right must be defended.

Already the Ohio secretary of state is feeling heat from his own state's media, and is talking about uniform hours throughout the state (however my bet is that this means no expanded hours anywhere.)  This is a time for courts, the media and the public to step up, to understand that this is a fundamental threat, and stop politicians from stopping the vote simply because they are afraid of the result if they allow free elections in America.

The Bain Drain

"It's the Brain Drain.  His brain's draining."

A film by Richard Lester, starring the Beatles

There's the complaint--and there's probably a book about it--that the U.S. lost at least a generation of the best and brightest to Wall Street, the big banks and other financial manipulators, because that's where all the action and the big money was.

Back in the 60s, something like this was called the Brain Drain.  I first heard it in connection with European and especially British scientists drawn to America (and so the above quote is appropriately from a British movie directed by an expat American.) Such a brain drain from, say, the higher reaches of politics to more sumptuous occupations might help explain the otherwise baffling ineptitude of the Romney campaign. 

We don't have to reprise the devastating last few months but just the past day or two.  Romney picks Ryan, with more than two weeks until the GOPer convention, which gives the media and the Democrats all that time to dissect and define Ryan with no other distractions.  They make a joint appearance--i.e. photo op--in which Ryan is introduced to the American public wearing a suit coat at least a size too large for him, which appears to be Romney's.  These two guys, with no military service or foreign policy experience, use a decommissioned Navy ship as their backdrop in Virginia, where neither is from (though it is at least a swing state.) 
Then Ryan goes off to an Iowa state fair where he's hit immediately with a question from the crowd on what he's going to do about Medicare, his greatest vulnerability, and he simply refuses to answer.  Meanwhile Romney waffles on his support for the Ryan budget.  But in the dumbest move and the easiest to have anticipated and avoided was Romney's next stop: Florida.  If there is any state of the union where Ryan's attack on the existence of Medicare is going to be a huge issue, it's Florida--and most of the newspapers there immediately headlined that problem.  Just as Romney was in the state.

But that's where Romney went--and wound up cancelling his appearance in Orlando, which should be good territory for him.  With a lame excuse, on which his staff flipflopped.  Then he goes off to Miami for an appearance hosted by a felon convicted of cocaine trafficking--who under Florida law, can't lawfully vote.

Karl Rove, aka Bush's Brain, may still be the evil genius of GOPer politics, but there doesn't seem to be much beyond that.  But the theory that the GOPer brain drain is really a Bain Drain runs up against the fact that the candidate himself is a money guy, and he doesn't seem to be any better or smarter at this than his staff.

On the other hand, there is a large lump of evidence that the Bain Drain is what it's all about.  As the latest fundraising letter from Jim Messina of the Obama campaign says: "Here's the calculation: Mitt Romney doesn't need or expect Paul Ryan to convince even one undecided voter to cast their ballot for him. That's not what he's on the ticket for. He's there to reassure and inspire ultraconservative ideologues and corporate interests that they will have one of their own a heartbeat from the presidency.

That means tens or even hundreds of millions more dollars for the Romney campaign and the array of outside groups supporting him -- and if current trends hold, more than 90 percent of that money will be spent on TV ads -- lying, distorting and trashing Barack Obama. Those ads will have more impact on undecided voters than anything Paul Ryan himself does or says.

Mitt Romney is convinced that picking Paul Ryan is a great investment for him. 

Apart from the obvious utility of this theory in getting Obama donors to give more, it is almost the only theory that makes sense. (Reuters sort of thinks so too.)  Because it suggests that Romney's strategy has not changed.  The only thing he's done well in this campaign so far (as I've pointed out ) is raise tons of money.  He may have begun to feel that as the polls showed him in free-fall,  the well was going to dry up, and the Ryan pick was the pick-me-up his fundraising needed.  That's the investment guy--the Bain Brain's thinking.

So the strategy may remain the same. If it is intact we can expect a nondescript convention speech, a soundbite or two for the debates, and more inept campaigning.  But a thermonuclear onslaught of negative ads that Romney is banking on to make enormous changes at the last minute.

Update: The New York Times and several other news outlets noted that Ryan is particularly well connected to big conservative donors--and to make that point himself, Ryan paid court in Las Vegas Tuesday to crypto-billionaire Sheldon Addledson.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Poliquips Monday

With the selection of Paul Ryan, quipped Howard Fineman on msnbc, "Romney uploaded an identity."

Max Fisher: "Articles about Paul Ryan's foreign policy experience tend to be short..."

Jonathan Bernstein: "...basically I'm not sure how you get less foreign policy and national security experience than Romney/Ryan."

Of Paul Ryan, Rachel Maddow said: "This is not the guy you pick to win Florida.  This is the guy you pick to win Fox & Friends."

Blue Monday

The painting is by Kandinsky, who formed or was part of various groups, several of which had "Blue" in the name.

It's Monday morning and difficult to greet with hysterical laughter, but this may help: I remember reading some of this when it first surfaced in the 80s but somehow it's much funnier now.  In fact I had to stop reading it because I was in danger of laughing myself sick.  Really, it's the funniest thing I've read, line for line, in a long time, maybe ever.  It's a compilation from college freshman essays on history.  It reeks with joy.