This Week in Voting
There's nothing more fundamental to a representative democracy than the right to vote. Rick Hasen of the essential Election Law Blog has a piece in Slate this week about various legal cases meant to restrict voting rights, and what might happen if/when they reach the conservative Supreme Court (one did this week, and the outcome was exactly what Hasen predicted). He writes:
"The principle the Supreme Court should apply, although it may not apply, is that legislatures should not be able to put significant burdens on minority voters or any other voters without a decent reason for doing so—and a 'good' reason for a voting rule is not to secure party advantage in the next election.
"But it’s no good betting that the Supreme Court will read either the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act so expansively. Indeed, many of us were apoplectic when the Supreme Court in Shelby County struck down the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 precisely because we knew that these other tools for policing cutbacks in early voting were unlikely to be successful given how the courts had already interpreted the scope of these provisions. For the most part, it has been Democratic and more liberal judges who have issued opinions reading voting rights protection broadly, and it has been Republican and more conservative judges who have issued opinions reading the protections narrowly. There is every reason to expect the same pattern at the Supreme Court, with a 5–4 conservative-liberal split on these questions."
He ends the piece with this grim warning: "We ignore what's coming at our peril." He's right. Letting conservative state legislatures restrict the voting rights of certain demographic groups that tend to lean Democratic is a dangerous trend for a representative democracy. And make no mistake--this isn't about voter fraud. The very minimal voter fraud that does occur (like this) wouldn't be addressed by the policies being pursued. This is about partisan advantage, and nothing more. It's wrong, and every American of conscience should fight against it, regardless of political leanings.
Side Note 1: We report last week that the K-Bros funded tea party group Americans for Prosperity had been distributing voter materials in North Carolina containing what appears to be deliberate misinformation. Anyone who followed the voter registration instructions on the AFP mailer would find him- or herself unable to vote in November's election. AFP claims that they made some "administrative errors," but they've been making the same types of "errors" all around the country. When an organization does the same thing over and over, it's not a mistake, it's a strategy. Deliberately misinforming the public about the voting process is a felony, and a state investigation has been launched into AFP's mailer. While we're not holding our breath, we truly hope the state takes the appropriate action against these anti-democratic efforts.
Side Note 1.5: Who are the Koch brothers? This pretty much tells the story. And this tells about when they decided they objected to their characterization--not to the facts, mind you--and the reporter they objected to shot down their arguments one by one. The main thing to keep in mind--whatever the K-Bros or their various advocacy groups say about trying to protect the rights of the people, what they're really trying to protect is their own capability to keep reaping billions while wreaking havoc on the environment. They don't want anything to come between them and the damage they're doing daily to the American landscape and air quality.
Side Note 3: What's the big deal about early voting? Why is restricting it necessarily about race and class? Here's the answer. And it's not just Ohio. By North Carolina's own accounting, their laws would disproportionately impact African Americans and Democratic voters. But the two alleged voter impersonation cases occurring between 2000-2010--not two documented, but two alleged--make potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters necessary.
Most House seats pretty safely belong to one party or the other, thanks to redistricting efforts that sculpt legislative districts for maximum advantage. Which is why it's scary when the Republican nominees for the House, in some of those districts, are this far into the crazy:
"One nominee proposed reclassifying single parenthood as child abuse. Another suggested that four 'blood moons' would herald 'world-changing, shaking-type events' and said Islam was not a religion but a 'complete geopolitical structure' unworthy of tax exemption. Still another labeled Hillary Rodham Clinton 'the Antichrist.'”
For the record, despite what some people say in the article, such views are not conservative. They're delusional. There's a difference, and one has to hope genuinely conservative voters recognize the danger of sending delusional individuals to Washington to make law.
This Week in Irresponsible
Sen. Rand Paul (R/KY) thinks he wants to be President of the United States. Based on his demonstrated intellectual acumen, he is probably most interested in riding around in the presidential limo, flying in Air Force One, and perhaps playing kickball on the White House's South Lawn, because he shows no facility at all with most of the issues our next president will face (or that the current one is already facing).
This week, for purposes that remain a mystery, Paul decided to try to sow panic over Ebola, saying, “I do think you have to be concerned. It’s an incredibly transmissible disease that everyone is downplaying, saying it’s hard to catch…. I’m very concerned about this. I think at the very least there needs to be a discussion about airline travel between the countries that have the raging disease.”
The US is now one of the "countries that have the raging disease," so we're not sure exactly what he means by that. The broader point is that Paul is not speaking as a medical professional--he's not a physician, he's an ophthalmologist accredited by no agency except the one he made up. What he might not understand is that there are real medical professionals in the world, and they have explained how Ebola is transmitted. It is not "incredibly transmissible," and it is "hard to catch."
Trying to increase public fear, at a time when plenty of people are already scared, is the height of irresponsibility. You don't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, and you don't lie about the dangers of Ebola to a worried country. Not, at least, if you have a conscience and a fully functioning brain. Sen. Paul constantly reveals that he has neither.
This Week in the Middle East
Journalist George Packer has written a compelling argument that although American presidents, past and present, have made mistakes in the Middle East, the real forces driving chaos and bloodshed there stem from the region and its people--America is not so ominpotent, he suggests, that we can, singlehandedly, create the kind of turmoil gripping the region today, and we should get over thinking that we are. But the fact that we didn't cause it all ourselves (though we contributed to it) doesn't mean we won't have to take part in the solution, if one can be found.
This Week in Privatization
Conservatives want to privatize lots of things best left to government--Social Security, Medicare, prisons, wars, etc. Sometimes private companies take over operation of toll roads. That doesn't always go over so well, as here in Indiana (and California, and South Carolina). Sometimes inserting the profit motive into the public sphere is a bad idea.
This Week in "Values"
We won't go into much detail about the ill-named "Values Voter Summit" held over the weekend--ill-named because the values promoted there--hatred, bigotry, fear of science, religious extremism--do not seem to be the values of the rest of the country. Right Wing Watch has a collection of clips of some of the worst of the worst, including claims that "millions" of Muslims are would-be suicide bombers; that people who foolishly believe in evolution are just jealous of those who don't believe in it, and therefore will go to heaven; that American Christians are being persecuted; and that our country is engaged in "spiritual warfare" against Islam. We wiil though, point out that Sen. John McCain (R/AZ) must not have wanted his running mate--whose name will not be mentioned at this blog until she apologizes for equating the national debt with slavery--to know where he lived and worked, in the event that he would have won the presidency in 2008, because said genius half-term governor believes the White House is located at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue. In fact, that address appears to be part of a high-end hotel, the oddly named the InterContinental The Willard Hotel. Maybe McCain assumed she would only serve part of that term, too, so didn't want her to have permanent digs in DC.
Side Note: Okay, one more. The "spiritual war against Islam" quote was from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R/MN). Her message--that Christianity, particular American Christianity, has to understand that we're at war with the religion of Islam--is exactly the message ISIS wants to send to Muslims everywhere. The US is a malevolent force bent on destroying Islam, so they need to do whatever it takes to defend their religion. Nice of Rep. Bachmann to carry their message into this country.
This Week in Moral Foundations
We're reported before about recent research into just how differently liberals and conservatives view the world, and why that makes it hard for them to think the same way about issues--to even approach thinking about them from a similar angle. According to moral foundations theory (and of course, grossly generalizing), liberals are moved by the idea of innocent people being harmed. Conservatives are moved by notions of disgust, of what they perceive as unpleasant for themselves and their families.
Now those theories have been applied to conversations about climate change, with the result showing that when liberals talk about it, they're doing so in a way that can't reach conservatives. This is made more difficult, of course, by the fact that it has become such a partisan issue that some people think they can't believe in climate change if they're conservative. Since the science is so convincing and the scientific community so unified, to not believe, they have to discount the science. Liberals, on the other hand, embrace the science, both because it has become a liberal position to do so, and also because the science shows that rising sea levels will put innocents at risk in coastal areas around the globe, not to mention from continued and worsening extreme weather events.
To reach conservatives, the study shows, climate change has to be presented in more personal terms. They won't respond to "Those people you don't know are in danger." But they can respond to, "The nation you value so highly is being harmed, and it's patriotic for us to try to protect it from that harm. The purity of our air and water is at risk."
We're sure that over time, more research will discover other ways conservatives and liberals can talk to each other about shared issues. For now, it's good to remember that the two groups look at things from dramatically different starting points.
Side Note 1: These charts show how the Senate has become increasingly divided along partisan lines, just between 1993 and now. We would note that Democrats have always been more inclined to cross over the center line than Republicans, which isn't surprising since, as we reported recently, Democrats tend to value compromise while Republicans tend to value ideological purity. In the current congress, there are a handful of Democrats over the line, but no Republicans near it.
Side Note 2: On the other hand, Senate Republicans are far more likely to pay their interns than Senate Democrats are. So much for standing up for the little guy, Dems.
This Week in Mendacity
This Week in the Post-reality Party
We here at TWiA love politics and policy, but we don't love political ads. Fortunately, we don't live in a major media market, so we don't see all the commercials for statewide races, just a handful for the gubernatorial candidates. We are, however, barraged with the ad blitz in the battle for Rep. Ron Barber's (D/AZ) seat. Barber has been rated the fourth most bipartisan member of Congress, which means he's representing well his purple district. But that also means it might be possible for the Republicans to pick him off, so both sides are putting a lot of money into the race.
On Wednesday morning, we saw multiple, almost back-to-back ads for his opponent, Republican Martha McSally. Each was dripping with untruth.
Ron Barber, one says, supported President Obama's failed stimulus. Ron Barber wasn't in office when the stimulus passed, but that's beside the point. The stimulus didn't fail. Jobs were disappearing from the American economy at breakneck speed, and we were at risk of having a recession that turned into a depression. The month stimulus money started being spent, the private sector started hiring again, a trend that hasn't stopped yet--54 consecutive months of job growth, and counting. The depression was prevented. We've known since the Great Depression that government spending is a useful tool at times of recession, and during the 2008 primary season, every Republican candidate had his own stimulus program. It was only when President Obama was elected, and it became his stimulus, that Republicans turned against the idea, and decided to say that a successful (but too small) stimulus was a "failed" stimulus. [Check out this brand new, interactive tool that displays the fiscal impact of federal, state, and local government spending on economic growth and employment. Also worth noting is this new study showing that the multiplier effect of government spending (how many dollars in economic activity each dollar spent generates) is actually much stronger, during a recession, than previously thought. The old thinking was that the multiplier was 1.3, but in fact in a recession, when government spending is increasing, the multiplier becomes 2.3.]
Another claim from is that Barber supported Obamacare, which kills jobs and raises insurance premiums on working women. Both of those are untrue--the Affordable Care Act has created jobs, not killed them--particularly in the health care sector, but also by making the economies of many states stronger and by reducing the amount of our GDP devoted to health care spending, freeing it up for other uses. And under the pre-ACA system, insurance premiums nearly always rose from year to year. They still do, but now the increases are smaller, not bigger.
Finally, an ad actually paid for by the campaign and approved by McSally references another ad, which had been running on behalf of Barber (not a Barber campaign ad, but one paid for by Americans for Responsible Solutions, the anti-gun violence group founded by Barber's former boss, Rep. Gabby Giffords, and her husband Mark Kelly). The ad featured a woman whose daughter had been murdered by a vengeful ex-boyfriend with a legally acquired gun, and claimed, truthfully, that McSally opposed legislation that would make it harder for such people to get guns. The claim was factually correct; McSally's campaign had reported that she was “pro Second Amendment and believes our focus for preventing shootings should be on strengthening our mental health system and enforcing background check laws already on the books, not expanding those laws that will do little to prevent violence and infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens.” Refusing to enact new laws that, for example, strengthen restrictions against people who commit domestic violence or stalkers--even at gun shows and in private sales--is opposing legislation that would make it harder for those people to get guns.
But McSally's campaign argued that the ad should be taken off the air, because McSally had been a victim of stalking once. We're sorry to hear that, and wish no woman ever had to deal with it, but it's entirely beside the point. McSally may have been a victim of stalking, but her stalker didn't legally buy a gun and shoot her with it. The woman in the AFRS ad genuinely lost a daughter to someone who did. McSally did oppose laws that might have prevented it. After the Barber ad aired, her campaign changed its tune, saying that she, "supports adding misdemeanor stalking to the list of criminal offenses that would keep dangerous individuals from obtaining guns in other states where stalking can also be a misdemeanor.”
That would mean enacting new law, which she had previously opposed. The original AFRS ad was true. Nonetheless, after it had aired for its planned period, AFRS put up a different ad. But McSally is still running an ad attacking the original one, and showing the words of media outlets that opposed the original ad. One of those is the Arizona Republic, which is a conservative newspaper generally supportive of Republican candidates, but is at least a real news organization. The other "source" quoted is Breitbart.com, which is a rabidly right-wing propaganda site that in no way resembles a news outlet. The nearest equivalent might be an ad for a Democratic candidate quoting the Daily Kos. Except that wouldn't happen, because the left doesn't cater to its fringe elements the way the right does.
By quoting Breitbart, that ad destroys any legitimacy it might have had (if any). And if it means that McSally herself considers Breitbart.com an actual source of information (we don't know if she does, but somebody should ask her), then putting her in Congress would be dangerous, because she doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction.
Also, while we're sorry McSally was once stalked, Giffords and Barber were both shot--Giffords nearly killed--by a gunman using a legally purchased gun. We believe that their stance on the issue carries a little more weight than McSally's.
We have to ask, once again, the eternal question--if politicians lie to us to get our votes, do they deserve our votes? We believe the answer remains "No."
This Week in Taxes
Speaking of reality, and the lack thereof, Republicans are starting to talk about what they would do if they gain control of the Senate and keep the House this year. Many of them want to pursue a kind of "tax reform" that would once again crater the economy. Rep. Paul Ryan (R/WI), who we regularly demonstrate here is not really as fluent with math as his supporters like to believe, understands one thing we've seen time and again--when Democrats are in power, deficits are a huge deal, but when Republicans are, in the immortal words of former VP Dick Cheney, "Deficits don't matter."
According to the Washington Post, "Ryan may be laying the groundwork for proceeding alone, without Democratic support: In his speech to the Financial Services Roundtable, Ryan suggested changing the rules by which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office judges tax bills by requiring the agency to take into account any positive effects on the overall economy. That process, known as 'dynamic scoring,' could make it easier for Republicans to write legislation that cuts taxes without expanding budget deficits."
Note the phrasing--it makes it easier to write legislation that does that. Actually having laws that do it is much, much harder, because "dynamic scoring" is a synonym for "magical thinking."
Ryan wants to make the CBO judge tax bills based not on actual numbers or the lessons of history, but on imaginary gains that might occur when you take money out of the economy and increase wealth and opportunity inequality, rewarding the rich for being rich and punishing the poor for being poor (which is right out of the playbook of Ryan's literary hero, the despicable Ayn Rand). Presumably the economic expansion that would result from this magic trick would be in the form of stacks of hundred dollar bills carried onto American shores on the backs of rainbow unicorns. In Ryan's dream, if you write a bill that cuts taxes, instead of the CBO scoring it on the basis of what has happened in the past when taxes were cut by a similar amount, the bill's author gets to say, "This will grow the economy by 6%." Then the CBO has to base its projections on 6% growth.
We had better hope Democrats keep the Senate, because while Paul Ryan can frolic with the unicorns all he wants, the rest of us have to live in the real world. When the top personal tax rates were in the 75-90% category, cutting taxes could have the result Ryan imagines. When they're near historic lows, as they are now, cutting the top rates starves the economy and creates budget deficits that--today--Ryan thinks are a bad thing.
This Week in Intelligence
The right wing is in an uproar this week over President Obama's refusal to attend daily intelligence briefings. They have apparently forgotten that they raised this same concern in 2012, only to have the claim easily debunked. The president doesn't "skip" daily in-person briefings, because they often don't exist. President Obama prefers--as did Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton--his briefings on paper, to which he can provide written questions if he needs follow-up, and he gets and reads those daily. As Dana Milbank wrote back in 2012, "In reality, Obama didn’t ‘attend’ these meetings, because there were no meetings to attend: The oral briefings had been mostly replaced by daily exchanges in which Obama reads the materials and poses written questions and comments to intelligence officials. This is how it was done in the Clinton administration, before Bush decided he would prefer to read less. Bush’s results–– Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to find Osama bin Laden – suggest this was not an obvious improvement.”
If Fox "News" and Rush Limbaugh and other voices on the right are reviving a lie that was debunked two years ago, what does that say about the subject of their intelligence?
This Week in Denial
Part of the difficulty of containing the spread of Ebola in West Africa is that some of those most at risk believe that it's a hoax or that it can be treated by drinking salt water. These Ebola deniers increase the danger for everyone around them, everyone they come into contact with. By the same token, those Americans who refuse to vaccinate their children against common childhood diseases are responsible for the renewed spread of diseases long thought to have been conquered in this country. Since right-wing personality Glenn Beck makes a very good living by trying to convince Americans to fear and hate each other, we shouldn't be surprised that he's in favor of the anti-vaccination movement. He doesn't seem to understand that one person's freedom to not vaccinate does not outweigh many people's freedom not to have their children put at serious risk. The real surprise is that anyone anywhere could ever think that Glenn Beck cares about America or Americans, or anything other than increasing the personal wealth of Glenn Beck.
This Week in Quizzes
Does America spend more money on interest on the national debt, foreign aid, Social Security, or transportation? Only 20% of Americans know the correct answer. Here's the News IQ quiz, and here's more about the results. (FYI, we here at TWiA World Headquarters missed one question, so did better than 96% of Americans, the same as 3%, and worse than 1%.)
This Week in How You Can Help
In 1928, New York Governor Alfred E. Smith (D) became the first Catholic nominated for president. He lost to Herbert Hoover. Hoover was one of our worst presidents, and he failed to comprehend the policies that could have headed off or at least lessened the impact of the Great Depression. Whether Smith would have been a better choice, we can never know, but he could hardly have done worse.
Smtih grew up a working class kid on the streets of New York, and his interests in diversity and in the plight of working folks never left him. As governor, he instituted many reforms that workers still enjoy today.
Another of Smith's legacies is the annual black-tie Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner (this year's dinner took place this week). Launched by Archbishop Francis J. Spelman (you might know him better as Cardinal Spelman) in 1945, the year after Smith's death, this charity event typically hosts both major-party presidential candidates every four years. The dinner has become an event at which the candidates can poke gentle fun at each other, and humor is a watchword for most of the speakers. Every year, presidential election or no, the dinner raises money--millions and millions of dollars, over the year, for a variety of charitable causes. The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation's focus is always on underprivileged children of the Archdiocese of New York.
You don't have to make it to the dinner to help. If you can spare a couple of bucks, the Foundation would appreciate it, and so would the kids.
This Week in Bears
Smarter than the average bear? We don't know; the average bear is pretty darn smart.
And we've all heard about bears scratching an itch by rubbing up against a tree, right? This bear shows how it's done.