Obama Warns Of Threats To Right To Vote

Protect Vote

If one followed politics superficially from the mainstream media, they might come to the incorrect view that we have a two party system in which the two parties differ on some issues but are essentially mirror images of each other. Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that instead we have a centrist party which has been struggling to continue our system of self-government and an extreme right wing party which seeks the destroy the vision of America held by our founding fathers. Among those who have bucked the usual media narrative and have reported on this are Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. This pair of centrists who have pointed this out in an essay, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem, and in their book  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which clearly laid out the extremism of the current Republican Party. They have explained that the mainstream media missed the big story of the 2012 campaign–the dishonesty and extremism of the Republican Party.

Republicans benefit by rigging the system in their favor as much as possible. Some of this is built in to the structure of our government, such as giving small Republican states the same number of Senators as larger, Democratic states. Gerrymandering, as well as the tendency of Democrats to concentrate more in urban areas, give Republican an advantage in the House, even in elections such as in 2012 when more people voted for Democratic representatives than Republicans. Republicans take advantage of control over large segments of the mainstream media, including Fox which operates essentially as a house propaganda organ, and then “play the refs” by complaining of fictitious liberal media bias. If this isn’t enough, they try to rig election laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

While Republicans use their influence over the mainstream media to promote misinformation to further their cause, Democrats have done a poor job of promoting a message or even of exposing what their opponents are doing. I was therefore happy to see that Barack Obama has spoken out against Republican restriction of voting rights.

“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

Speaking a day after a conference in Texas commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Obama linked the issue to the movement that helped pave the way for him to become the nation’s first black president.

“America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren,” he said.

Republicans in some swing states have advanced new laws that go beyond the voter identification requirements of recent years. Among other things, state lawmakers are pushing measures to limit the time polls are open and to cut back early voting, particularly weekend balloting that makes it easier for lower-income voters to participate. Other measures would eliminate same-day registration, make it more difficult to cast provisional ballots or curb the mailing of absentee ballots.

Over the last 15 months, at least nine states have enacted voting changes making it harder to cast ballots. A federal judge last month upheld laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, leading other states to explore following suit.

I hope we see more of this. Warnings about the Republican threat to freedom and democracy should not be limited to a single date commemorating a past event. This should be an important part of the political debate between the parties every day. Hopefully people will then realize that they should be wary of a political party which finds that its success depends upon keeping people from voting.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

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The Republican War On Democracy

There has been plenty of talk about the Republican war on science and war on women. We are also faced with a Republican war on the basic principles of democracy. There was opposition to Medicare before it first passed and became the law of the land. Once Medicare passed Republicans might have still complained but they didn’t have forty-two House votes to try to defund it. It has only become a recent event that House Republicans supported changes which would destroy Medicare. Past Republicans certainly didn’t threaten to shut down the government and harm the economy by having the government default on its debts. Steve Benen wrote about how if Republicans are allowed to have their way elections would not have meaning:

It may seem like ages ago, but about 10 months ago, the United States held national elections. One party, the Republican Party, ran on a fairly specific platform, near the top of which was a promise to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Their rivals, the Democratic Party, also had a platform, which included preservation of the Affordable Care Act.

The “American people” were asked to make a choice. And they did.

At the presidential level, the Democratic candidate won with relative ease, and became only the sixth presidential candidate in American history to win 51% of the popular vote twice. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats not only held their majority for the fourth consecutive election cycle, they also unexpectedly added seats. In the U.S. House, Democratic candidates collectively won 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates.

These are not minor details. We have a constitutional system of government and free national elections in which we, the people, help set a course for our country. GOP candidate made their case, lost, and forfeited their claims to a popular mandate.

And yet, when it came time to govern, Republicans decided it was still time to pursue an aggressive, right-wing agenda, predicated on manufactured crises, extortion politics, a misguided culture war, and non-negotiable demands.

We’ve all heard the “elections have consequences” adage many times, but let’s be clear about what we’re witnessing in 2013: Republicans are very clearly telling the country, “No, actually, elections don’t have consequences. We’re still going to do as we please.”

Democracies aren’t supposed to work this way.

Unfortunately this is not the only example of the Republican war on democracy. Republicans abuse the system when they changed use of the filibuster to require sixty votes for virtually everything. Voter suppression has become a major Republican tactic. Even the Republican strategy of spending fortunes to spread misinformation is contrary to what we would desire in a democratic nation where an informed electorate chooses its leaders.

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Quote of the Day

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” –Bill Clinton

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Kerry Brings About Resumption Of Mideast Peace Talks

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. It is too early to say whether the talks will be successful, but it is a hopeful sign that the two parties are engaging in direct negotiations for the first time since 2008 and an attempt in 2010 which quickly fell apart.

Getting this far is a promising sign from John Kerry in just his first year as Secretary of State. Imagine how much better the world might be if things had turned out differently and he had won in 2004, completing his second term as president last year (with perhaps a Barack Obama with four additional years of Washington experience starting his first term this January). A few more voting booths in Democratic urban areas of Ohio might have made all the difference–something to keep in mind as Republicans increasingly turn to voter suppression as an election tactic.

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How Republicans Control Congress After Democrats Received More Votes

Bloomberg  looks at how the Republicans have kept control of the House despite more people voting for Democratic representatives:

More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.

Graphic: 2010 Gains Give Republicans Redistricting Edge

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

This is a rare event:

Still, it’s rare for one party to win more House seats while securing fewer votes than the other party. The last time it happened before 2012 was in 1996, when Democrats won the nationwide House vote by 43.6 million to 43.4 million as Republicans held their majority and Bill Clinton was re-elected president, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s office.

Redistricting is intended to ensure House members represent roughly equal size populations. Yet from the first Congress, party leaders began exploiting the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage, a practice known as gerrymandering.

The greater concentration of Democratic voters in cities also adds to the Republican advantage in House seats. Having more voters concentrated in smaller areas leads to having a smaller number of districts where your candidate will win by large majorities, while the other party might have narrow victories in many other districts. When this gerrymandering is added to this dynamic, the Republicans have had the opportunity to pick up significantly more seats than they would receive if Congressional delegations were strictly proportional to the vote.

The Founding Fathers did not want a pure democracy, but I wonder if they would be happy with this outcome. We have seen occasions such as 2000 a president was elected while losing the popular vote. (2000 also provided even more disturbing problems with the Supreme Court blocking a recount along partisan lines). The Senate is even more intentionally undemocratic, giving the Republicans an advantage by giving small states where they dominate as many Senators as states with much larger populations. Republicans have further exploited their advantage by using the filibuster in ways  never intended to require sixty percent to pass virtually anything.  Historically the House has provided a more democratic outcome, more representative of the voters, but this is no longer the case.

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Michigan Republicans Promote Election Rigging Scheme

Michigan wound up with far right Republicans in control of state government during the GOP sweep of 2010. This has led to problems including passing a so-called “right to work” law, attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and state government attempting to ignore the will of the voters in legalization of medical marijuana. While most states have given up on the idea of trying to rig elections,  many Michigan Republicans are still pushing for this:

Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates.

By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner.

That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.

Critics say the plan would have given Mitt Romney nine of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes last year, although he lost by more than 500,00 votes to President Barack Obama state-wide. With the win, Obama captured all 16 Michigan electoral votes.

Lund introduced a bill to make the revision last year but it was unsuccessful. Hesaid he intends to reintroduce it in 2013, but leaders of the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers haven’t publicly announced a position on it.

Governor Rick Snyder, who is more moderate than most of the Republican elected in 2010, is not currently supporting this proposal. However, Snyder has often given in to the radical right, such as in reversing his position and signing “right to work” legislation in late 2012.

The current winner take all system in effect in all but two states might sound undemocratic, but provides results far closer to the national popular vote than allocating electoral votes by Congressional district. Under the current system, the winner of the popular vote has won the vast majority of elections. The 2000 election provided a notable exception with Al Gore winning the popular vote but George Bush winning the electoral vote. Reviews of the results in Florida afterwards did show that Gore would have won Florida (and therefore the election) if there was a state-wide recount, but not in the more limited recounts sought by Gore which were ultimately shut down by the Supreme Court.

There are two problems with the Republican proposal to allocate electoral votes based upon Congressional districts. Republicans hold a larger number of Congressional districts than they should receive based upon numbers of votes for each party due to gerrymandering. Even if not for gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities compared to the more rural Republican voters would result in Democrats controlling a smaller number of Congressional districts–winning by larger margins in cities than Republicans would win in other areas.

While is is preferable that the winner of the popular vote becomes president, allocating electoral votes by state helps to level out these issues and provides a result far closer to the popular vote than the Republican proposal would. Of course the Republican proponents realize this and prefer rigging elections to providing a platform which more voters would support. Even many Republicans oppose this. Hopefully some oppose this in support of democracy. Other motivating factors for some Republicans is the hope that they can carry an entire state and receive all of its electoral votes in the future, and fear of their state becoming less meaningful to candidates and receiving less attention during elections.

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Romney Fails To Buy Election; Conservative Extremism Defeated

Republicans spent four years obstructing economic recovery to promote their main goal of making Barack Obama a one-term president. Mitt Romney sold his soul to the radical right. Millions were donated by conservatives hoping to elect a candidate who would give them a slightly lower marginal tax rate, possibly costing some  more than paying the taxes would. Not only was Obama reelected, Tuesday was a victory for liberalism over the authoritarian right with voters objecting to Republican policies of increased government intrusion in the private lives of individuals.

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock both lost, perhaps a gift from God for those who support the right of a woman to control her own body. Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and Grand Rapids, Michigan voted to decriminalize it.

In 2004 Republicans might have defeated John Kerry by boosting turnout among social conservatives by placing votes on gay marriage on the ballot in several states. Since then the nation’s attitude has changed, but until yesterday legalization of same-sex marriage only came from the legislatures or courts. Yesterday voters turned out to pass measures supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland and Maine.

Some Republicans believed that a proposal to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota would bring out more evangelical voters than expected by the pollsters, tipping the state and ultimately the nation to Mitt Romney. Republican pundits and blogs have had multiple theories to promote their predictions that Romney would win and the polls were wrong. Instead facts prevailed with the polls, and those predicting based upon the polls such as Nate Silver, turning out to be right. If this was simply a matter of partisans being overly optimistic about their chances this might be understandable. The problem is that the conservative media promotes an alternate reality which ignores facts on a daily basis, ignoring the facts which should be considered when deciding policies on matters such as the economy, health care, and the environment.

One argument from Republicans was that the polls were wrong because they over-sampled Democrats. (Some Democrats made the same mistake in denying Obama’s temporary fall in the polls following the Denver debate). I was confident of an Obama victory as soon as the exit polls showed that the electorate closely resembled what was shown in the polls. Party identification is fluid, with voters supporting Obama being more likely to identify themselves as Democrats. This also must be considered when hearing reports that the polls showed a lead for Romney among independents. Large numbers of the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 now call themselves Democrats. The Republican name as become so toxic that many former Republicans now call themselves independents, making it likely that a substantial number of such independents would vote Republican. In the past centrists and independents had much more overlap than now. While independents now lean Republican, centrists voted Democratic in substantial numbers.

Republican strategy did not work because they did not realize how out of tune they were with the voters, or did not care. Once again, the Tea Party helped the Democrats pick up Senate seats and maintain control. Speaking out against abortion rights and contraception was a losing strategy. With Florida’s final results not yet in but appearing to go to Obama, supporting policies which would seriously damage both Medicare and Social Security also does not look like a winning strategy. Romney’s strategy of enormous ad spending, non-stop lying on the campaign trail, and voter suppression also turned out to be failing political strategies.

The extremism of the Republican Party makes it difficult to see how the Republicans can have much success in the future unless they change. William F. Buckley, Jr. was right when he fought to keep the equivalent of the Tea Party in his day out of the conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was right when he called himself a liberal in  his later years in protest over the influence of the religious right on the GOP. If Republicans could not win this year, when it wasn’t difficult to place the blame for the Bush economic crash on the incumbent, how will they do in future years after the economy continues to recover? Republicans can no longer count on their Southern strategy for guaranteed electoral votes. Virginia and most-likely Florida went to Obama, and Obama looked like he might also win in North Carolina before the first debate. In future years the Republicans will have a tougher time holding on to North Carolina, Arizona, and possibly Georgia.

The Democrats retain control of the Senate, and appear likely to continue this despite the manner in which the Senate is tilted towards the smaller, often conservative states. They might hold onto the House for the next several years due to the advantages Republicans received from redistricting after the 2010 elections. We might need to wait until 2020 to reverse this.

The presidency is now far harder for Republicans to win. Changing demographics will make it even harder in the future for Republicans to win based upon their main base of voter support–poorly educated, low-information, white Christian males. Republicans need more support from minorities, but that also means abandoning their strategy of obtaining votes by promoting fear and hatred of minorities among their base.

If Romney had won, Republican economic ideas might have mistakenly received credit for the continued economic recovery which is likely to occur over the next four years. This was the last shot for Republicans to block Obamacare, which may soon become a permanent part of the country as Medicare and Social Security have become. Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, may have a chance to appoint the next few justices to the Supreme Court, preventing the court from overturning Row v. Wade and possibly reversing Citizens United. Conservatives wanted this election badly as many realized this could have been their last chance prevent the United States from being part of the 21st century. They lost, and it is difficult to see where they go from here.

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SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who News; Merlin; Fringe; Homeland; Alias; David Simon on Romney’s Taxes; George RR Martin on GOP Voter Suppression; Romney and Ryan as Herman and Eddie Munster

Doctor Who is rumored to be returning on September 1, with many of the cast and crew interviews are concentrating on an event to take place later in the season. In the video above, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner discussed the Ponds leaving the show and the introduction of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character. While we still know little about Clara, Coleman’s character, there are unconfirmed reports that the character is going to be a computer expert.

Steven Moffat says he completely rewrote the final scenes with Amy and Rory:

Moffat told Digital Spy that he “completely” rewrote the pair’s last scenes in upcoming episode, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’.

“I completely changed the ending as I was writing it, thinking ‘No, I’ve got it wrong… I’m on the wrong emphasis’ – but it’s a good one and it’s properly emotional,” he promised.

Of the final script, Who star Matt Smith said: “I was very moved, very moved indeed, because not only is it two characters that I love, it’s two actors that I love working with. To see them go – and I think go so beautifully… it’s moving.”

Karen Gillan – who plays Amy – added: “I instantly phoned Matt [when I read the episode] and I was crying and laughing hysterically… because it’s so good!”

“It was like getting the last chapter of the best book you’ve ever read and being really surprised by the ending… and really satisfied,” explained Rory actor Arthur Darvill. “It was pretty emotional.

“It’s Doctor Who – I’m so proud of being part of such a big show. The show is bigger than all of us and it will outlive all of us… I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”

More from Steven Moffat in this radio interview.

Karen Gillan has been offered, and turned down, a role on Gray’s Anatomy.

John Barrowman has joined the cast of Green Arrow.

Colin Morgan on Merlin:

“It’s definitely the most ambitious series yet,” says actor Colin Morgan, who plays the titular Merlin in BBC One’s medieval fantasy. “They’ve pushed our characters into manhood, and this is the Merlin I’ve been waiting for.”

At the end of series 4, the wizard dealt a fatal magical blow to Arthur’s villainous uncle, Agravaine de Bois, who was in league with Morgana. Things have altered dramatically since then, and when the show returns later this year, Camelot will have jumped forward three years. Arthur has settled into his new role as King of Camelot with Queen Guinevere at his side, and Merlin is continuing along his new path…

“We left Merlin at the end of the last season tipping over into a darker side, and I think that’s a reference for me for the rest of this season,” Morgan continues. “I think he is so confident in himself now, and in who he is and what he is destined to do. He has a resilience and power that drives him for this season. He gives as good as he gets.”

This, apparently, is going to lead us to some of the “most important scenes there has ever been in terms of Merlin’s magic.” Could this mean that the secret is finally coming out? Morgan teased: “Arthur is forced to confront magic a lot in this series, and that could change everything, for Merlin and for everyone.”

What do you think that means? Is the time right for Merlin to reveal his magical mojo?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KP3G2FqIOnE

Fringe returns September 28. Two different trailers which tease the season in different ways are above.

Homeland returns September 30–trailer above.

From time to time there has been talk of rebooting Alias. I never saw any point in this. The story ran its course. A new spy series would be better off going in its own direction rather than trying to recreate what was already done. I also had doubts that a reboot could compete with the original because of how great the cast was on the original. While I doubt this would ever happen, Jennifer Garner provides hope that if there ever is a reboot of Alias it might be with the original cast:

 If Alias was ever rebooted, would you want to be a part of it?

I think J.J. Abrams has got his hands full. I don’t see him turning around and rebooting Alias anytime soon. If  he was involved, I’m sure the rest of us would sign right up. We had a blast making that show and we’re all still superclose, so I’m sure you would find an eager group of participants right there.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, blasts Mitt Romney on his taxes:

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of at least 13 percent. And he’s proud to say so.

Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit.

Stunning.

Am I supposed to congratulate this man?  Thank him for his good citizenship?  Compliment him for being clever enough to arm himself with enough tax lawyers so that he could legally minimize his obligations?

Thirteen percent.  The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college.  If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter.  Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such incomes.

I can’t get over the absurdity of this moment, honestly:  Hey, I never paid less than thirteen percent.  I swear.  And no, you can’t examine my tax returns in any more detail.  But I promise you all, my fellow American citizens, I never once slipped to single digits.  I’m just not that kind of guy.

God.

This republic is just about over, isn’t it?

George R.R. Smith knows about power plays as he portrays them on Game of Thrones. He commented on Republican voter suppression:

“Show Us Your Papers”

I am way too busy these days for long political rants.

But I would be remiss if I do not at least make passing mention of how depressed, disgusted, and, yes, angry I’ve become as I watch the ongoing attempts at voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, and other states where Republicans and their Teabagger allies control key seats of power.

It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.

It would really be nice if there were still some Republicans of conscience out there who would stand up and loudly denounce these efforts, a few men of honor and integrity for whom “win the election” does not “win the election at any cost.” There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is. I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this, any more than Robert A. Heinlein would have. They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.

The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.

And don’t tell me they are libertarians either. No true libertarians would ever support a culture where citizens must “show their papers” to vote or travel. That’s a hallmark of a police state, not a free country.

Finally this picture, with apologies to the Munster family:

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Most Electronic Voting Isn’t Secure

Steve Stigall, a CIA cybersecurity expert, suggested that  Hugo Chavez fixed a 2004 election recount. He also argued that most electronic voting isn’t secure:

Stigall said that voting equipment connected to the Internet could be hacked, and machines that weren’t connected could be compromised wirelessly. Eleven U.S. states have banned or limited wireless capability in voting equipment, but Stigall said that election officials didn’t always know it when wireless cards were embedded in their machines.

While Stigall said that he wasn’t speaking for the CIA and wouldn’t address U.S. voting systems, his presentation appeared to undercut calls by some U.S. politicians to shift to Internet balloting, at least for military personnel and other American citizens living overseas. Stigall said that most Web-based ballot systems had proved to be insecure.

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