Thursday, July 3, 2014

Vote Suppression

Wow, I’ve heard of trying to stop people from voting before they actually vote.  But stopping them after?

The tea party-aligned anti-voter fraud group True the Vote has filed a suit in federal court against the Mississippi secretary of State and the Mississippi Republican Party asking that records of the election results of the runoff election between Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) be made available.

“All we are asking is that the MS State Republican Party follow the law; allow their designated county representatives to inspect the poll books and ballots, give them the review time they are permitted by law, and allow them to uphold their responsibility to MS voters,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said in a statement on Tuesday. “True the Vote has been inundated with reports from voters across Mississippi who are outraged to see the integrity of this election being undermined so that politicos can get back to business as usual. Enough is enough.”

The group argues that it is nonpartisan but according to Pro Publica, mostly Republican lawmakers back True the Vote while groups that try and prevent disenfranchisement of minority voters oppose it. True the Vote has often aggressively pursued voter fraud even in areas where there is not much evidence of it. It has also argued for voter ID laws and purges of voter rolls. It has been accused of voter intimidation by poll watchers. The group, founded in 2009, was borne out of the tea party based King Street Patriots organization and has been closely linked with the tea party wave of 2010.

The suit by True the Vote is the latest example of McDaniel supporters calling for a review of the runoff election. McDaniel and his supporters argue that there was foul play involved by the Cochran campaign when it sought to win over Democratic and African-American voters to win the runoff.

And they wonder why they have a problem with getting the minority vote.  Between them and the thugs greeting the refugees from Central America, they’re doing great.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Watching The Watchers, Ctd.

The plan by various Tea Party groups to prevent voter fraud intimidate voters in today’s run-off election in the Mississippi Senate race has drawn the attention of the people in charge of the election itself.

“Observers from both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office will be in Mississippi counties on Election Day,” the offices said Monday in a joint statement providing guidance on election day.

The statement also said that “there is no authority in state law for a PAC or other outside group to place ‘election observers’ in Mississippi polling places.”

That should at least give the impression that the election is on the up and up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today In Irony

Via TPM:

A Republican candidate for Arkansas governor supports the new voter ID law, but he was left waiting after he forgot his identification.

Spokesman Christian Olson told The Associated Press that Asa Hutchinson forgot his ID when he attempted to vote at the polls in Bentonville on Monday. Olson says a staffer was able to retrieve the ID and bring it to Hutchinson so he could vote.

This election marks the first statewide test of the law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. A state judge has ruled the measure unconstitutional, but suspended his ruling and said he won’t prevent enforcement of the law during the primary.

Olson said Hutchinson thought the incident was a “little bit of an inconvenience” but still believes the law is necessary.

Yes, it’s only a “little bit of an inconvenience” if you can have a staff member go fetch for you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Reading

More Money, Less Voting — Ari Berman in The Nation on the Supreme Court’s ideology.

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

Consider these stats from Demos on the impact of Citizens United in the 2012 election:

·  The top thirty-two Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 each.

·  Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.

·  It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.

That trend is only going to get worse in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.

Now consider what’s happened since Shelby County: eight states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “nine states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”

A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.

Why Local TV News Sucks — Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones explains.

Everybody knows that most local TV newscasts kind of suck. On television, if it bleeds it leads, and if it’s cheesy and trite it wins the night. Local news is a reliable source for late-night comedians—and The Simpsons has been lampooning it forever. Yet despite all of the genre’s shortcomings, local TV news still manages to reach 9 in 10 American adults, 46 percent of whom watch it “often.” It may come as a surprise to you internet junkies, but broadcast television still serves as Americans’ main source of news and information. Which is why it matters that hundreds of local TV news stations have been swept up in a massive new wave of media consolidation: It means that you, the viewer, are being fed an even more repetitive diet of dreck.

In terms of dollar value, more than 75 percent of the nearly 300 full-power local TV stations purchased last year were acquired by just three media giants. The largest, Sinclair Broadcasting, will reach almost 40 percent of the population if its latest purchases are approved by federal regulators. Sinclair’s CEO has said he wants to keep snapping up stations until the company’s market saturation hits 90 percent. (And that’s not a typo.)

Now here’s where things really get sketchy: Media conglomerates such as Sinclair have bought up multiple news stations in the same regions—in nearly half of America’s 210 television markets, one company owns or manages at least two local stations, and a lot of these stations now run very similar or even completely identical newscasts, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. One in four local stations relies entirely on shared content.

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission finally took steps to curb the practice. The commission’s rules have long prohibited companies from owning more than one of the four top-rated stations in a given market. But there was no rule preventing a single company from managing more than one station per market. Companies exploited this loophole by controlling stations through “joint sales agreements”—essentially shell companies formed just to hold the broadcast license. “Removal of the loophole helps ensure competition, localism, and diversity in local broadcast markets by preventing a practice that previously resulted in consolidation in excess of what is permitted under the Commission’s rules,” the FCC said in a press release.

Ad Some Love — Andrew Solomon at The New Yorker on how advertising is fighting the culture war.

For a long time, prejudice made a certain business sense. You could argue that it was immoral or wrong; others insisted that it was moral and godly. But there was little dispute about the business piece of it. Bill Clinton liked gay people, but he signed the Defense of Marriage Act nonetheless. Karl Rove knew it was smart to put all those anti-gay-marriage initiatives on the ballot. Coors beer could advertise in gay magazines while funding anti-gay interests and keeping any hint of the “non-traditional” out of the ads it ran for general audiences. The regressive side in the so-called culture wars was presumed to include a majority of American consumers; businesses, worried about their image, tended to defer to them.

Now, Honey Maid, that old-fashioned brand of graham crackers, has launched an ad that shows, in the most radical and moving way of any national campaign so far, how much that has changed. It shows a two-dad family, a rocker family, a single dad, an interracial family, a military family. The two-dad household is featured at some length; you cannot be distracted away from it. Most striking is the tagline of the ad: “No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid. Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family. This is wholesome.” The ad is deeply heartwarming—not simply because it shows diversity (which other companies have done) but because it labels these families with the word “wholesome,” which is exactly the kind of word that tends to get claimed by the evangelical right. People have long suggested that the new structures of the American family are “unwholesome” as a way of rationalizing intolerance. The idea of what is “against nature” has been central to messages of prejudice about both interracial relationships and homosexuality.

Honey Maid knew its ad would provoke controversy, and it did. So the company has made a follow-up spot that has been released on social media. “On March 10th, 2014, Honey Maid launched ‘This is wholesome,’ a commercial that celebrates all families,” the online short proclaims. “Some people didn’t agree with our message.” Viewers see close-ups of tweets and e-mails with remarks such as “Horrible, NOT ‘WHOLESOME,’” “DO NOT APPROVE!,” and “Disgusting!!” The title card says, “So we asked two artists to take the negative comments and turn them into something else.” We then see thirty-year-olds Linsey Burritt and Crystal Grover, who collaborate under the name INDO, taking a printout of each hateful comment and rolling it into a tube, then grouping the tubes at one end of a vast, industrial-looking space to create an assemblage that spells out “Love.” The artists appear to walk away, their work done. Then the online ad proclaims, “But the best part was all the positive messages we received. Over ten times as many.” Then we see e-mails with epithets such as “family is family” and “love the Honey Maid ad” and “this story of a beautiful family” and “most beautiful thing.” The entire room fills up with tubes made from these messages. Finally, we are told, “Proving that only one thing really matters when it comes to family … ,” and then we see the word “love” embraced by a roomful of paper tubes. The pacing of the spot is impeccable: the first half turns hatred into love, and the second half provides evidence of love itself. In its first day online, it garnered more than 1.5 million views.


Advertising both follows and leads to change. Marketers’ objective is to sell things, and they will seldom be brave enough to jeopardize their own interests, but their own interests appear to be changing. At some quiet moment when “Modern Family” was reaping good ratings, the mentality of corporate America began to change. Cheerios ran an ad last summer that showed an interracial family and received an astonishing amount of vitriol—nearly fifty years after Loving v. Virginia. Some of the responses to its posting on General Mills”s YouTube channel were so odious that General Mills actually disabled the comments. When General Mills did a second ad in the series featuring the same family, it hired screeners to sort through the YouTube comments and remove the most bilious. It debuted during the Super Bowl, in February.


But how crushing that in the same week that Honey Maid has made history, we have the passage, in Mississippi, of S.B. 2681, signed into law Thursday, which takes the same tack as the vetoed Arizona bill but in very careful terms, allowing those with religious rationales to act out their bigotry, and enjoining government from interfering when they do so. I suppose that Mississippi, which doesn’t have an N.F.L. team, didn’t worry about not getting the Super Bowl. The anti-L.G.B.T. Family Research Council has taken credit for the passage of the bill, writing that its efforts

helped to bring along the business community—which, in Arizona, was so deceived by the media and outside leftist groups.… Mississippi companies didn’t have that problem, because the state tuned out the propaganda.

Where Mississippi has gone, other states will likely follow. With no federal jobs or housing protections, with no ENDA, gay people are vulnerable to such oppression. Being good for business gets us only so far. What, then, of Honey Maid? What, then, of making the word love out of all that hatred? It will take more than a pair of talented installation artists to bring about such a transformation on a national scale.

Doonesbury — What an idea.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Poll Tacks

It’s been shown over the last couple of presidential election cycles that the more people vote, the less the Republicans win.  This is in keeping with the trend that the country has been moving in; we’re getting to be more progressive in a lot of areas, including cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, reproductive rights, immigration, and economics.

Instead of learning their lesson and adjusting their stands on policies that might attract more people, the conservative response has been to try to stem the tide by restricting the number of people who vote or who vote early.  Or, if you can’t join ‘em, keep ‘em from voting.

Richard L. Hasen at Slate looks at the state of right-wing suppression.

In the past few weeks, a flurry of conservatives have attacked early voting, from Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis in Politico to George Will in the Washington Post to J. Christian Adams in the Washington Times.  The timing is no coincidence: The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which President Obama created to look at issues with long lines and other election problems, recently issued its much-anticipated report. The report is full of many sound suggestions for improving our elections, and one of the key recommendations is to expand early voting, either in person, through absentee ballots, or both. There’s good reason to follow the commission’s recommendation: Early voting takes pressure off administering the vote on Election Day. It helps avert long lines and aids election administrators in working out kinks. Voters like early voting because it lets them pick a convenient time to vote, when there are not work or child-care conflicts.


But conservative critics of early voting runs don’t just mistrust early voters; they mistrust voters in general. As I explained here, there is a fundamental divide between liberals and conservatives about what voting is for: Conservatives see voting as about choosing the “best” candidate or “best” policies (meaning limits on who can vote, when, and how might make the most sense), and liberals see it as about the allocation of power among political equals. Cutting back on early voting fits with the conservative idea of choosing the “best” candidate by restraining voters from making supposed rash decisions, rather than relying on them to make choices consistent with their interests.

In other words, letting just anybody vote tears away at the fabric of manifest destiny: that the country should be ruled by those in whom God has placed the power by letting them get rich and making them straight, white, and male.  As Jonah Goldberg, he of rankest privilege tells us, letting the common people vote just ruins the party.

“Voting should be harder, not easier—for everybody. … If you are having an intelligent conversation with somebody, is it enriched if a mob of uninformed louts, never mind ex-cons and rapists, barges in? People who want to make voting easier are in effect saying that those who previously didn’t care or know enough about the country to vote are exactly the kind of voters this country needs now.”

Sounds like Mr. Golberg has a big cross to burn bear.

HT to Anne Laurie.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Reading

Here, Boy — Ian Haney-Lopez at Salon reports on how Ronald Reagan turned the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and George Wallace into the mainstream dog-whistle of the GOP in the 1980′s.

Why did Ronald Reagan do so well among white voters? Certainly elements beyond race contributed, including the faltering economy, foreign events (especially in Iran), the nation’s mood, and the candidates’ temperaments. But one indisputable factor was the return of aggressive race-baiting. A year after Reagan’s victory, a key operative gave what was then an anonymous interview, and perhaps lulled by the anonymity, he offered an unusually candid response to a question about Reagan, the Southern strategy, and the drive to attract the “Wallace voter”:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—, n—, n—.” [Editor's note: The actual word used by Atwater has been replaced with "N—" for the purposes of this article.] By 1968 you can’t say “n—” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut taxes and we want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—, n—.” So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

This analysis was provided by a young Lee Atwater. Its significance is two fold: First, it offers an unvarnished account of Reagan’s strategy. Second, it reveals the thinking of Atwater himself, someone whose career traced the rise of GOP dog whistle politics. A protégé of the pro-segregationist Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, the young Atwater held Richard Nixon as a personal hero, even describing Nixon’s Southern strategy as “a blue print for everything I’ve done.” After assisting in Reagan’s initial victory, Atwater became the political director of Reagan’s 1984 campaign, the manager of George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, and eventually the chair of the Republican National Committee. In all of these capacities, he drew on the quick sketch of dog whistle politics he had offered in 1981: from “n—, n—, n—” to “states’ rights” and “forced busing,” and from there to “cutting taxes”—and linking all of these, “race . . . coming on the back burner.”

When Reagan picked up the dog whistle in 1980, the continuity in technique nevertheless masked a crucial difference between him versus Wallace and Nixon. Those two had used racial appeals to get elected, yet their racially reactionary language did not match reactionary political positions. Political moderates, both became racial demagogues when it became clear that this would help win elections. Reagan was different. Unlike Wallace and Nixon, Reagan was not a moderate, but an old-time Goldwater conservative in both the ideological and racial senses, with his own intuitive grasp of the power of racial provocation. For Reagan, conservatism and racial resentment were inextricably fused.

In the early 1960s, Reagan was still a minor actor in Hollywood, but he was becoming increasingly active in conservative politics. When Goldwater decided to run for president, Reagan emerged as a fierce partisan. Reagan’s advocacy included a stock speech, given many times over, that drummed up support for Goldwater with overwrought balderdash such as the following: “We are  faced with the most evil enemy mankind has known in his long climb from the swamp to the stars. There can be no security anywhere in the free world if there is no fiscal and economic stability within the United States. Those who ask us to trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state are architects of a policy of accommodation.” Reagan’s rightwing speechifying didn’t save Goldwater, but it did earn Reagan a glowing reputation among Republican groups in California, which led to his being recruited to run for governor of California in 1966. During that campaign, he wed his fringe politics to early dog whistle themes, for instance excoriating welfare, calling for law and order, and opposing government efforts to promote neighborhood integration. He also signaled blatant hostility toward civil rights, supporting a state ballot initiative to allow racial discrimination in the housing market, proclaiming: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.”

Reagan’s race-baiting continued when he moved to national politics. After securing the Republican nomination in 1980, Reagan launched his official campaign at a county fair just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town still notorious in the national imagination for the Klan lynching of civil rights volunteers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner 16 years earlier. Reagan selected the location on the advice of a local official, who had written to the Republican National Committee assuring them that the Neshoba County Fair was an ideal place for winning “George Wallace inclined voters.” Neshoba did not disappoint. The candidate arrived to a raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000 whites chanting “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!”—and he returned their fevered embrace by assuring them, “I believe in states’ rights.” In 1984, Reagan came back, this time to endorse the neo-Confederate slogan “the South shall rise again.” As New York Times columnist Bob Herbert concludes, “Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.”

State vs. Family — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on life vs. death decisions.

Marlise Munoz was 33 when she died.

She was at home when she collapsed from an apparent blood clot in her lungs. It was an hour or more before her husband Erick found her. He says doctors pronounced her brain dead, though. John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, citing privacy concerns, has declined to confirm that diagnosis.

It is, at any rate, nearly a month and a half since this happened, yet Marlise remains hooked up to life support. Her mother wants her removed. Her father wants her removed. Her husband wants her removed. He says his wife — like him, a paramedic — specifically said she never wanted to be kept alive by artificial means.

But the hospital has refused the family’s requests, citing a Texas law that prohibits taking a pregnant woman off life support. And Marlise, the doctors found, was 14 weeks along.

As it happens, this family’s plight is the inverse of another which has recently transfixed the nation. Marlise’s family wants her removed from life support, but the family of 13-year old Jahi McMath fought to keep her attached. McMath was declared brain dead by a hospital in Oakland after complications from surgery to remove her tonsils. This triggered a legal struggle that was resolved last week when the hospital released Jahi to the coroner and the coroner released her to her mother’s custody. Jahi is now receiving “treatment” at an undisclosed facility and her family says her condition is improving.

It seems unlikely. The cessation of neurological function is not some “technical” death. Experts say that in such cases, the brain liquefies, which would seem to be about as dead as you can get. So one suspects Jahi’s family is simply seeing what it needs to see.

That said, who can blame them? Who among us has the right to foreclose their prayers or the wisdom to draw some hard and fast line beyond which faith becomes foolishness and steadfastness an excuse to ignore reality? Who among us in the same situation would want somebody to substitute their judgment for ours — particularly if that somebody was some politician who’d never met us or our loved one?

This is what makes the situation in Texas particularly galling. Why is the state — not a doctor, not a faith leader, but the state — interposing itself in one of the most wrenching and intimate moral choices a family can ever make? What gives it the right?

News to Him — Andy Borowitz has the latest from New Jersey.

TRENTON (The Borowitz Report)—At a hastily called press conference today, Chris Christie revealed that he only became aware that he was the governor of New Jersey in the past seventy-two hours.

“Unbeknownst to me, some people I thought I could trust were secretly working to elect me governor of this state,” a visibly stunned Christie told reporters. “I have acted swiftly and fired them all.”

While asserting that he had terminated all of the people who were involved in the scheme to elect him, he said that, if he finds additional conspirators, “I will deal with them accordingly.”

Christie struggled to explain how he remained in the dark about being governor, a position he has held since 2010: “I guess I’m just not much of a detail person. People think I’m a micromanager. I’m not. If a bunch of people are going behind my back and plotting to make me the governor, that’s not the kind of thing I pick up on.”

Reflecting on his reaction to the news that he is the governor of New Jersey, Christie said he felt “angry, embarrassed, and humiliated, but mainly just sad.”

“It’s sad that this was allowed to happen,” he said. “It’s a sad situation for me and for New Jersey.”

Doonesbury — Coming up short.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Texas Tech Glitches

They’re not just for Obamacare.

A Texas district judge who has been voting for the past five decades was almost barred from the polls Tuesday, thanks to the state’s newly implemented, stricter voter ID law. The law kicked in on Tuesday as early voting in Texas’ November 5 election began.

As she told local channel KIII News, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was flagged for possible voter fraud because her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name. This was the first time she has ever had a problem voting in 49 years. “What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” she said.

In fairness, this isn’t a technical problem.  In the matter of voter suppression that is the subtext of these laws in the name of preventing voter fraud, this is a feature, not a bug.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tiers For Fears

Not content to purge and scourge voters they don’t like, the gang that dreamed up voter suppression via voter ID rules that require more paperwork than a North Korean exit visa have a new plan.

Remember this phrase: two-tier voting. You may be hearing more about it.

Officials in Arizona and Kansas are making preparations for elections with two categories of voters. There will be those who provided proof of citizenship when they registered to vote, and will therefore be able to vote in all local, state, and federal elections. And then there will be those who did not provide proof of citizenship when they registered. Those people will only be able to vote in federal contests — if at all.

In both states, the preparations underway are reactions to the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the legal battle over Arizona’s 2004 voter identification law, known as Proposition 200. While the headlines in June painted the ruling as a blow to Proposition 200, officials in both Arizona and Kansas have chosen to focus on the leeway the Supreme Court left them. Kansas State Election Director Brad Bryant laid out the argument in an email he sent to county election officers at the end of July.

“As the Supreme Court made clear, its decision applies only to ‘federal registration forms’ and covers only federal elections,” Bryant wrote, according to a copy of the email provided to TPM. “States remain free to require proof of citizenship from voters who seek to also vote in state elections.”

Using that logic, both states have made moves toward two-tier systems.

So you would need to prove your right to vote twice: once for the federal offices, and again for the state and local races.  Or, put it another way: separate but equal.

I’m surprised that it hasn’t already been proposed in Florida, but give it time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Better Purging Next Time

After bungling the last attempt to get all non-Republicans off the voter rolls of Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration promises they’ll do better the next time.

In a rare display of contrition coming to a Florida city near you, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is acknowledging what civil rights groups and local elections officials had already been saying: Last year’s attempted purge of noncitizens from voter rolls was fundamentally flawed.

“I accept responsibility for the effort,” Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told the Herald/Times. “It could have been better. It should have been better.”

Detzner, who serves as Scott’s top elections official, is repeating the mea culpa during a five-day road tour that concludes this week in Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale. The apology is part of a sales pitch to the public and supervisors of elections that a second attempt to remove noncitizens from voter rolls, “Project Integrity”, will be better.

“We learned from the mistakes we made,” Detzner said. “We won’t make the same mistakes.”

I feel better already.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Reading

Objective Evidence — Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic offers Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) proof of voter suppression.

Dear Senator Rand Paul:

If you want to be president of the United States one day, if you want more people to take you seriously as an independent thinker within the Republican Party, if you want to lead your party back to control of the Senate, or if more modestly you want simply to tether yourself to some form of reality, you are going to have to stop making false and insulting statements like you did Wednesday when you declared: “I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.”

I guess it all depends upon your definition of “objective evidence.” On the one hand, there are the factual findings about evidence and testimony contained in numerous opinions issued recently by federal judges, both Republican and Democrat, who have identified racially discriminatory voting measures. And on the other hand, there is your statement that none of this is “objective.” It’s a heavy burden you’ve given yourself, Senator — proving that something doesn’t exist when we all can see with our own eyes that it does.

Last August, for example, three federal judges struck down Texas’s photo identification law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it would have led “to a regression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Those judges did find that some of the evidence presented to them was “invalid, irrelevant or unreliable” — but that was the evidence Texas offered in support of its discriminatory law. You should read this ruling before you talk about minorities and voting rights.

While you are at it, you should also read the opinion — issued almost exactly one year ago – by another panel of federal judges who determined that Florida’s partisan plan to shorten early voting days constituted evidence of racial discrimination. Or if that doesn’t rise to your level of “objective evidence” read what U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote last fall in a voting-rights challenge in South Carolina. Section 5 of the federal law, he wrote, acted as a vital deterrent forcing recalcitrant lawmakers to enact less discriminatory voting measures.

Now, you may disagree with what all of these federal judges (Republican appointees as well as Democratic ones) concluded about the discriminatory nature of these laws, after they heard sworn testimony and read the voluminous records in these cases. But you can’t say they offered “no objective evidence” for the conclusions they reached. Your conclusion, on the other hand, directly contradicts the experiences of countless citizens, in and out of the South, who have been victimized by the new generation of voter-suppression efforts.

Stupid Computers — Gary Marcus of The New Yorker on why your computer doesn’t understand you.

Hector Levesque thinks his computer is stupid—and that yours is, too. Siri and Google’s voice searches may be able to understand canned sentences like “What movies are showing near me at seven o’clock?,” but what about questions—“Can an alligator run the hundred-metre hurdles?”—that nobody has heard before? Any ordinary adult can figure that one out. (No. Alligators can’t hurdle.) But if you type the question into Google, you get information about Florida Gators track and field. Other search engines, like Wolfram Alpha, can’t answer the question, either. Watson, the computer system that won “Jeopardy!,” likely wouldn’t do much better.

In a terrific paper just presented at the premier international conference on artificial intelligence, Levesque, a University of Toronto computer scientist who studies these questions, has taken just about everyone in the field of A.I. to task. He argues that his colleagues have forgotten about the “intelligence” part of artificial intelligence.

Levesque starts with a critique of Alan Turing’s famous “Turing test,” in which a human, through a question-and-answer session, tries to distinguish machines from people. You’d think that if a machine could pass the test, we could safely conclude that the machine was intelligent. But Levesque argues that the Turing test is almost meaningless, because it is far too easy to game. Every year, a number of machines compete in the challenge for real, seeking something called the Loebner Prize. But the winners aren’t genuinely intelligent; instead, they tend to be more like parlor tricks, and they’re almost inherently deceitful. If a person asks a machine “How tall are you?” and the machine wants to win the Turing test, it has no choice but to confabulate. It has turned out, in fact, that the winners tend to use bluster and misdirection far more than anything approximating true intelligence. One program worked by pretending to be paranoid; others have done well by tossing off one-liners that distract interlocutors. The fakery involved in most efforts at beating the Turing test is emblematic: the real mission of A.I. ought to be building intelligence, not building software that is specifically tuned toward fixing some sort of arbitrary test.

Under the Gun — Alex Pareene at Salon on why John Boehner has to keep making crazy threats.

You probably read [last week] about the efforts of John Boehner and the Republican leadership in the House to convince the rank-and-file members that shutting down the government until Obamacare is defunded is a Bad Idea, and not a Brilliant Political Maneuver. Robert Costa’s account in the National Review has the basic narrative. It looks, now, like Boehner has succeeded in defusing the shutdown threat. All he had to do was promise something worse. Now we are going to not raise the debt ceiling instead.

As Jonathan Chait points out, replacing the shutdown threat with a default threat is actually much crazier and more potentially disastrous. But Boehner couldn’t get Republicans to agree to just give up on defunding Obamacare this year. He had to promise to exchange their one crazy plan to do so with another one that will go into effect later. And when it is time for that one to go into effect, he will need to find something else to distract them for a little while, until the next crazy plan is ready to go. As Brian Beutler says, we’ve seen this play out over and over again. Boehner has to promise to let Republicans do some apocalyptic thing later in order to get them to avoid doing some apocalyptic thing now. So far we’ve avoided an apocalypse.

But the people Boehner is trying to deal with here don’t see any of these threats as particularly apocalyptic. They don’t really see anything at all that might contradict their ideological stances. The House members Boehner’s trying to walk back from the ledge don’t read the Times or the Post. They don’t care what Brookings or the CBO or CRS say. They believe every “nonpartisan” or “objective” information source to be a part of the vast liberal conspiracy, and they rely for their facts and predictions strictly on sources explicitly aligned with the conservative movement. And those sources are just telling them crazy, untrue things, all the time.

That’s Boehner’s problem: He’s trying to ease his members into the real world, where defunding Obamacare is impossible as long as Obama is in the White House, and where attempts to do so via incredibly unconventional means could have disastrous consequences. What makes his job more difficult is that this reality isn’t acknowledged by most of the conservative organizations his members, and his party’s voters, exclusively follow.

Doonesbury — They need women.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Reading

Time to Mess With Texas — Eric Lewis in looks at the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the Obama administration’s response to restrictive new laws in Texas.

Republican legislatures and Governors in twenty states have recently passed restrictive voting laws, the patent purpose of which is to suppress minority turnout and dilute minority representation. The claim that voter-I.D. laws are meant to prevent voter fraud is hardly offered seriously; it is a solution in search of a problem. Gerrymandering has a long history in this country, but sophisticated modelling, coupled with a desire to limit minority representation, adds a layer of precise race-based discrimination. African-Americans and Hispanics tend to vote Democratic and so Republicans don’t want them to vote at all. The logic is an inexorable as it is reprehensible. This does not only happen in the Old South, but racist manipulation of the voting process in other parts of the country is an argument for including more jurisdictions rather than tossing out pre-clearance. (There is speculation that the Attorney General will also challenge racially restrictive voting laws in South Carolina and elsewhere.)

All of these phenomena gathered in a single storm in Texas. A large increase in the Hispanic population offers the prospect of turning this Yellow-Dog-Democrat turned Tea-Party Republican state into a blue or at least a purple state again. No Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994. The only Republican hope to continue this string of victories is to try to stem the tide of demographics by clogging the voting process to suppress turnout. The Texas litigation that was stopped in its tracks by the Supreme Court is well developed, with extensive factual findings on the race-restrictive motivation behind both the voter-I.D. law and the redistricting. This will provide a strong factual basis for arguing for the necessity of a period of pre-clearance.

The Supreme Court plays two critical functions in maintaining the integrity of our republican (small “R”) form of government. The first is counter-majoritarian, to protect the rights of “discrete and insular minorities” as stated in a famous footnote in the Carolene Products case. The second is majoritarian, to keep the arteries of democracy open and free-flowing through a robust, transparent, and accessible voting process. There is a long history of democratically elected governments around the world undermining the democratic process through restrictions on the franchise, a risk that the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was designed to prevent.

This Roberts Court failed to protect the rights of minorities by ignoring the concerted voter-suppression efforts of today. Jim Crow with a smile and a request for an I.D. is still Jim Crow. The Supreme Court also failed to foster support for the simple act of voting, the keystone for democratic legitimacy. Attorney General Holder’s attempt at a work around is most welcome, but it cannot fully compensate for the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision not to discharge its core institutional responsibilities.

Anthony Weiner and Liberal Morality — Ta-Nehisi Coates on what’s really wrong with the former congressman and his run for New York mayor.

Anthony Weiner is a politician who relished antagonizing the opposition. His appeal was singular and tribal — in an age of seemingly vacillating, gun-shy Democrats, Weiner took on whoever may come. You never once got the feeling that he was ashamed to be a liberal. He must have known that this made him a target for conservative activists. A wise man in Weiner’s position would be watchful. But Weiner is not a wise man. It is not his desire to get off that offends, it is the thick-wittedness of sending nude selfies on Twitter. It is the incomprehensible silliness of handing your opponents a gun and saying, “Please shoot me.” Repeatedly. It is wholly sensible that those of us who believe the liberal project is about more than embarrassing Republicans would not want Anthony Weiner as a pitchman.

There is something else at work here also — a lack of compassion. Here is where I differ with many of my liberal and libertarian friends. I believe that how you treat people matters. It is folly to embarrass your pregnant wife before an entire nation. To do the same thing again is cruelty. And there is the promise of more to come. One argument holds that what happens between Weiner and his wife is between them. I agree with this argument. But cruelty is not abolished by the phrase “consenting adults.” And the fact that the immoral is not, and should not be, illegal does not make morality meaningless. Huma Abedin has one choice. We have another. The choice should be made by voters — there should be no sense that if not for the powerful editorial pages Weiner would have won. As a city we deserve to see who we are, and what we actually care about.

I don’t think it is wrong to care about how people treat each others, which is another way of saying I believe that morality is important. I find the argument for same-sex marriage compelling not in spite of morality, but because of it. I think public office is an honored, and honorable, position. I do not think it is wrong to ask that our officers be compassionate. I do not believe it is wrong to ask that our officers be wise. I do not believe that it is the fate of all men to send dick pics hurtling through cyberspace. And I do not believe that Anthony Weiner is the best we can expect from maledom, to say nothing of New York liberals.

Why Righties Hate Detroit and New Orleans — Andrew O’Hehir looks at the reaction to the destruction of these two cities from the perspective of racial politics.

There’s definitely more going on with these two cities than old-school racial politics. Alien scientists observing these case histories from outer space might not assume, at first, that skin color had anything to do with it. New Orleans was hit by one of the biggest storms in history, and the government response was monumentally incompetent at all levels. Detroit’s bankruptcy comes toward the end of a long, dreary history: The deindustrialization of the American economy hit our most famous industrial city especially hard; the Big Three automakers blundered and mismanaged themselves into permanent mediocrity; investment capital flowed away from the Rust Belt and into low-tax, non-union jurisdictions in the Sun Belt and around the world; racial discord and rising crime drove the white middle class into the suburbs; financial inequality and the geographical separation between rich and poor became more extreme. As evidenced so memorably in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s mesmerizing film “Detropia” — and if you didn’t catch it on first release, now is definitely the time — Detroit is a remarkably quiet and empty city today, one that has lost two-thirds of its 1950 population of nearly 2 million, and contains an estimated 40 square miles worth of abandoned buildings and unused land, an area larger than Manhattan.

If those E.T. scholars wrote academic papers describing the Detroit tragedy as an “overdetermined” event with many causes and many possible interpretations, they’d be right. (I realize I’ve made my aliens into Marxists; you go with what you know.) But for those of us down here on the planet’s surface, it is inescapably a tale told in black and white. Detroit is the poorest and blackest large city in the country, ringed by some of the whitest and richest suburbs. We’re now in the second term of our first African-American president, and the overt racial violence that polarized Detroit and the rest of the nation in the 1960s and ‘70s feels, most of the time, like a distant memory. New Orleans and Detroit are exceptional cities in a different sense; most American cities have become polyglot, immigrant-rich communities in which no one ethnic group is a majority, which will likely be true of the United States as a whole by the middle of this century.

But the long, hot summer of 2013 – the summer of Paula Deen’s Aunt Jemima costumes and the upside-down O.J. verdict of the George Zimmerman case and the barely concealed conservative jubilation at Detroit’s demise – has reminded us that America’s ugly old-school racial narratives die hard, if they die at all. I don’t have a policy prescription for Detroit or a fixed opinion about urban-suburban consolidation or a federal bailout or some other method of patching the city’s fiscal cracks. I do know that the people who live there, most of them black and poor, have already been victimized by several generations of high crime and failing services and the flight of capital, and are about to get beat up some more.

Instead of trying to score short-term rhetorical points or assign blame for this mess, which are the only things people on either side of the political or pundit class ever want to do, I’d like to step back and ask a different kind of question: What in the name of Christ do we imagine that people around the world think about this disaster, when they look at us? When they see one of America’s most legendary cities, a capital of the Industrial Age and of 20th-century pop culture, reduced to poverty and decrepitude and dysfunction, compelled (in all likelihood) to strip away still more of its already minimal social services and break its promises to municipal retirees? Or when they see country-club denizens of the leafy suburbs a few miles away, most of them people who grew up in Detroit and made their fortunes there, angrily protest that they have no common interest with the inhabitants of the city and no responsibility for their plight?

Doonesbury — Community property.

Friday, July 26, 2013

And The Purge Goes On

Via the AP:

A federal court is dismissing a lawsuit that a Hispanic civic group and two naturalized citizens filed last year to block a voter purge in Florida.

The lawsuit became moot after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June. That decision halted enforcement of a federal law that required all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before changing the way they hold elections.

The groups fighting the state had argued that Florida’s efforts to remove suspected non-U.S. citizens needed to be cleared by federal authorities first because five counties in the state had been subject to the federal law.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. District Court in Tampa lifted a five-month old stay that had prevented Florida from sending any new names of potential non-U.S. citizens to county election officials.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in court filings the state plans to resume removal of voters even though the validity of previous state lists has been questioned.

Not to worry; they’ll get rid of just enough voters to insure that Rick Scott gets re-elected.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

South Carolina: No Dead Voters Here

The excuse the Republicans have been using to enact all their voter suppression laws across the country has been the prevention of voter fraud that has been running rampant.  Especially in states with large blocs of minority voters.  Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

One of those states is South Carolina where the attorney general was so sure that hundreds of fraudulent votes were cast (in spite of the fact that Mitt Romney won the state handily) that he launched an investigation to see just how many people rose from the dead to vote.


South Carolina never found a single dead voter in recent elections. At least, that is the final word from the State Election Commission investigation into whether 900 people voted using a dead person’s name, according to the Columbia Free Times.

The report found that whatever issues existed were usually due to human error, like a clerical mistake or scanning problem, and not because anyone intentionally impersonated a deceased person. For example, hundreds of errors were due to mistakes like confusing a father and son who share the same name.

When Attorney General Alan Wilson demanded the original investigation, he cited “an alarming number” of cases reported by the DMV that “clearly necessitates an investigation into criminal activity.” The initial report surveyed 200 “suspicious” names and found nothing, but Wilson insisted “no one in this state should issue any kind of clean bill of health in this matter” until officials “finished with their work.” Republicans, including Wilson, held up the initial claim that the voting rolls were packed with dead voters to argue for a voter ID law. Rep. Alan Clemmons (R) wrote at one point, “It is an unspoken truth in South Carolina that election fraud exists.”

Well, now the spoken truth is that it doesn’t.  Clerical errors and typos, yes, but no intent to defraud.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the GOP won’t redouble their efforts to make it nearly impossible for someone who doesn’t drive (no driver’s license), doesn’t travel (no passport) or who lives a long distance from a DMV office — which usually means poor people — to vote.  That’s what they had in mind the entire time.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Short Takes

President Obama will try again to close Gitmo.

Also, the president backs the way the FBI handled the Boston bombers.

Victims ID’d in Afghanistan cargo plane crash.

Witnesses and satellite photos show extent of Nigerian massacre.

It’s Markey vs. Gomez in Massachusetts primary for the Senate.

FDA says morning-after pill safe for 15 and up.

The Tony nominations are out.  (Missed again.)

R.I.P. Deanna Durbin, 91, film star of the ’40′s.

The Tigers beat the Twins 6-1.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Truly Despicable

If you are looking for a prime example of fetid racism masquerading as legal opinion emanating from the highest court in the land, I present Antonin Scalia and his views on the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Antonin Scalia this week escalated his criticism of the Voting Rights Act ahead of a Supreme Court decision expected within the next two months — raising the likelihood that he and perhaps a majority of justices will overturn the landmark law.

Speaking on Monday night at the University of California’s Washington Center, in D.C, Scalia described a centerpiece of the 1965 law as an “embedded” form of “racial preferment,” in remarks captured by the Wall Street Journal. He reportedly warned that the law would be reauthorized into perpetuity unless the courts invalidate it.

The Supreme Court is poised to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Right Act’s Section 5, which requires state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination to receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. Civil rights advocates warn that portion of the law is key to protecting minorities from discrimination.

During oral arguments in the case, Shelby County v. Holder, in late February, Scalia said that portion of the law — and its repeated renewal by Congress — reflects a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” The other conservatives justices were also deeply skeptical that Section 5 of the law remains valid given the changing times.

On Monday, Scalia also characterized the law as unfair because federal law doesn’t make similar efforts to protect whites from racial discrimination, according to the Journal.

The “emergency response” to the situation he’s referring to — the systemic denial of equal rights to citizens — had been embedded, so to speak, in the laws and traditions of this nation since its founding.  And given the recent attempts by Republicans in the several states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and of course the remnants of the Confederacy, the emergency still exists.

But as far as he is concerned, it’s the white men in this country who are in danger of losing their place at the top of the heap.

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Carolina Goes South

North Carolina won’t have a state religion after all.  Well, at least not this year.  Yet.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis’ office said Thursday that a resolution asserting North Carolina has the power to set an official state religion is dead, and won’t go any further.

The resolution, filed by two Republicans from Rowan County, declared “each state is sovereign and may independently determine how the state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion” – thereby claiming the federal government and courts have no authority to decide what is constitutional.

The bill’s primary sponsors were Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, a tea party member. Eleven other legislators signed the resolution. Legislators introduce hundreds or even thousands of resolutions every year, honoring constituents or declaring their stances on issues, but they carry little legal weight.

Warren said in a statement that the bill was only intended to allow Rowan County officials to open their meetings with prayer, not to establish a state religion.

Instead, they’ve turned their attention to another GOP obsession (no, not gay sex):  voter suppression.

A bill filed in the state Senate Tuesday would carry a tax penalty for parents whose children register to vote at their college address.

Senate Bill 667, known as “Equalize Voter Rights,” would remove the tax exemption for dependents who register to vote at any address other than their parents’ home.

“If the voter is a dependent of the voter’s parent or legal guardian, is 18 years of age or older and the voter has registered at an address other than that of the parent or legal guardian, the parent or legal guardian will not be allowed to claim the voter as a dependent for state income tax purposes,” the bill says.

The measure would affect only state income tax, so it wouldn’t have much effect on out-of-state students. But it could effectively cut student voting in counties like Watauga and Orange, where college voters have been a key part of the Democratic Party’s dominance.

The bill would also require voters to have their vehicles registered at the same address as their voter registration. That also could cut down on college student registration, since many students maintain their vehicle registration in their home counties.

Between state-mandated Christianity and tax hikes to punish college-age voters and their families, the Republicans in North Carolina sure have a strange view of smaller government and freedom.  Apparently it only applies to white straight Christian men.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Short Takes

President Obama heads to the Middle East.

Seven Marines killed in Nevada training exercise.

Rescue workers reach 19 trapped miners in Poland.

Cyprus bailout deal collapses over taxing savings.

Computer networks crashed in South Korea.

The assault weapons ban is out of the gun control bill in the Senate.

South Carolina — Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch get primary wins for Congress.