Stormy Monday, 4/14/14

StormyMondayYou’re no doubt delighted that your hardworking Congressional representatives have begun their desperately needed two-week break to recharge their batteries, get a little spring sun on their overwhelmingly white and male faces, and mull over “new” legislative ideas that haven’t a prayer of becoming law (which of course is, mostly, a good thing). On the brighter side, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran’s notion of adding a new housing stipend to Congressional remuneration appears to be a non-starter, so at least they’ll be lollygagging at their existing undeserved rate of pay.

Meanwhile, 2.4 million unemployed Americans will spend the same two weeks tearing their hair out over unpaid bills, wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, and continuing not to matter worth a damn to Republicans.

John Boehner kicked off his spring break today with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, accompanied by seven senior House Republicans. He’s expected to hug anyone in uniform he sees, lurch aimlessly around the streets of Kabul in search of happy hour, and top off the junket with a tear-stained tribute to whatever the hell it is American troops are supposed to be accomplishing there.

Following the Bureau of Land Management’s weekend return of 400 confiscated head of cattle back to deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the ludicrous confrontation between the government and Bundy’s creepy nitwit militia buddies appears to be over, at least until the BLM attempts to pursue other remedies against the scofflaw and the nitwits get all riled up again. Stay tuned.

Today and tomorrow in New York, China and the United States will hold talks on dealing with North Korea, followed by a third session in Washington on Thursday. While I have no expertise in international relations, it seems to me the two nations could do worse than shipping 400 head of cattle Kim Jong-un’s way for starters. It might at least buy a little time. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/14/14

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

WillinoisThe three Democrats running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It’s one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.

The central Illinois district is a complicated place to talk energy. Coal mining is no longer a major employer, but the industry still wields social and political influence beyond its economic impact. It contains the resting places of the two most significant coal mine union organizers in American history, Mother Jones and John L. Lewis. It’s also a farming district with agribusiness giant ADM based (for now) in Decatur. The metro-east St. Louis region is a center for refineries.

The 13th district also includes over a dozen colleges with young and educated voters increasingly concerned about climate change as the urgent crisis of our time. Environmentalists are organizing to become a bigger political player, particularly in response to the threat of increased coal mining and fracking.

All three Democratic candidates agree on the need to address climate change, promote clean energy, and protect the public from the negative impacts on fracking. Their responses reveal where they differ on details.

The Gollin and Callis campaigns asked for questions in writing. What follows are their responses in full.

First, George Gollin’s response:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: The scientific evidence for climate change is strong and alarming. It demands our immediate and continuing attention: we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change poses an existential threat to our civilization, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Davis to pretend that this is not the case.

Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?

A: The problem needs to be attacked simultaneously from many different directions. I support a carbon tax, as well as a crash program to further develop solar, wind, and fusion energy sources. I also support addressing the problem of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel from conventional fission reactors using “accelerator driven subcritical fission transmutation,” which shortens the cool-down time of the spent reactor fuel by a factor of one hundred, while releasing substantial amounts of usable energy.

Q:Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama’s call to eliminate oil subsidies?

A: I support ending subsidies.

Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?

A: I am glad that we are using more natural gas and less coal to generate electricity–this reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem of methane leakage is worrisome, and in need of constant oversight and tough regulation. I do understand the economic benefits of producing energy at home.

This is a perfect example of why we need more scientists in Congress. I don’t think we know enough about fracking, and I think that’s partly on purpose. I will push for legislation to require all fracking operations to disclose in advance the chemicals and other substances pumped into the ground, and to require continuous testing of groundwater, and publication of the test results.

I will also call on the National Academies of Science and Engineering to make a comprehensive study of the state of the science on the seismic and environmental risks of fracking. The study would yield a definitive report on the reliability of the geology and other analyses used to determine the risks of fracking, including how realistically we can assess the risks of groundwater contamination, induced seismicity, methane leakage from well heads, and–perhaps most importantly–how well fracking operations can be regulated in the face of a Republican Party which will try to cripple oversight by withdrawing funding for regulatory agencies.

If the conclusion is that the safety of fracking operations cannot be firmly established, or maintained in a hostile political environment, then I would immediately cosponsor legislation to ban fracking. And even if the NAS concludes that it can be done safely, I would cosponsor legislation requiring full disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids, and the results of pre- and post-fracking water assays. I would also sponsor legislation requiring the termination of fracking operations should regulatory oversight become inadequate because of funding cuts. I would sponsor legislation requiring a fracking operator to pay the costs of enforcing regulation, and the costs of mitigating any environmental problems attributable to fracking.

If careful, honest scientific analysis shows that we cannot prove that fracking is safe, then we should ban it. Let’s get the science figured out.

Next, the response from Ann Callis:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: I believe in the vast scientific evidence that man-made pollution is contributing to climate change. This winter has shown us the volatility of our current weather, and by looking at 30 year trends there is no denying the rapidly changing environment. I will work to preserve our natural resources and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must leave our world in a better place for future generations, and that starts with reducing pollution. Continue reading Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

The Strength of the Union

DDIn last night’s State of the Union speech, Machiavelli and modern video would both have embraced the hope and pain, and the courage, in the eyes of a mother and wife desperate to save her new family home after working all her life and losing her job; her clap tapped out a determination of her resolute strength. The video framed the misty-eyed look of thankfulness of a mother whose surgery was insured just days before her emergency, and the proud shoulders of a business owner who stood because he raised his employee’s wages. It captured the deer-in-the-headlights group grimace of the Republican Caucus, embarrassed and sullen, when called out for “stale arguments” and 47 votes to repeal health care.

These images deeply touched hearts and souls—and revealed our political divide. Large and small, the pictures were unvarnished snapshots of our republic, its pain and promise.

Among this tangle of images, the President’s words found the ridge line, the high ground on either side of the valleys, that long, undulating strip that unites and traverses both; the difficult terrain that any hiker of ridge lines knows, though politicians often seem to miss its trail markers.

The President’s lofty words weren’t the cause of the applause. The noisy agreement came from his presentation of irrefutable examples and facts and the vision of his ideas—his presentation of the solid record of his successes we so rarely hear from him. His speech connected how policy and politics touch the lives of our neighbors and friends. He triumphantly defied Republicans to show how eliminating “big government” would save the small things that government provides that aid in bringing about success.

The alteration of small and large has led to higher graduation rates, 8 million new jobs, ending war, and moving the country toward self-sufficiency in energy.

The mention of a key three—a barkeep’s son, a factory worker’s daughter, a single mother’s son—offered another set of personal stories to show the length and breath of American opportunity. The inclusion of the barkeep’s son reminded us of the President’s graciousness—and Machiavelli’s axiom. Continue reading The Strength of the Union

Stormy Monday, 12/9/13

StormyMondayThe President and First Lady will attend a national memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Tuesday, but other details of the trip are still unannounced. Mandela’s state funeral will be held Sunday.

In the Obamas’ absence, Vice President and Dr. Biden will fill in today and tomorrow as hosts of the White House Congressional Holiday Balls. Presumably the Bidens have been warned to watch for untoward events like Michele Bachmann stealing silverware or Rand Paul peeing behind a potted palm.

The Bidens signed a condolence book at the South African Embassy, which has been hosting candlelight prayer vigils. The Vice President will speak at a National Cathedral memorial service on Wednesday morning, ending a week of mourning in Washington.

Others traveling to South Africa this week to honor Mandela’s memory include Presidents Carter, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the prime ministers of the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia, the presidents of  France, Brazil and India, and, from the non-political world, Pope Francis, Prince Charles, Peter Gabriel, Oprah and Bono.

The United States will also be represented by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have announced their intention to mar the week by “protesting” outside various events, while South Africans look on and marvel at how a nation could tolerate such hatemongering.

Phil Schiliro, former chief congressional liaison for the Obama White House, returns to Washington this week to help with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Described as a “short-term appointment,” the gig will keep Schiliro busy coordinating with various government departments and with Congress. Naturally, Republicans will impugn his moral fiber, condemn him as out of step with mainstream values, and accuse him of murdering Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster and Jesus. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/9/13

Obama's Political Second Line

DD0 – 2!

Boehner lost the fight, as I predicted in my last article! Barack Obama kept alive the string that began with Boehner’s loss to Oklahoma Representative J.C Watts (R) for Chair of the House Republican Conference in 2001; that began Boehner’s string of losing fights of personal importance (important because Boehner makes them personal) to astute African-American politicians who take advantage of Boehner’s weaknesses and overreach.

Okay, the string is a twist: Boehner lost because his position was untenable. But the coincidence is history and makes good myth.

And from the mythical traditions of how the dead are buried, Obama has introduced something new to American politics: the political second line. It defines the way politics moves forward after a tough fight, when grief and anger are heavy in the air, and fury burns in the hearts of those vanquished, as, their ideals trounced, they walk past inanimate spirits of dead goals lying in the political infirmary of conference rooms.

BigChiefIn the recent battle of the bulge over the budget and debt ceiling, we knew the Republican defeat was nigh and the plug was pulled on its life support when the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a widely publicized letter to the each member of the US Senate. The letter accused Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, of lying, as the Koch organization categorically denied any effort in funding or directing Congressional Republicans to shut down government and default on debt to force an Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repeal or rollback.

“Non mas,” the Koch letter says. It attempts to portray Koch as the aggrieved victim, demanding that Senator Reid and other politicians stop misrepresenting and distorting his positions. Indicted by its arrogance and its in-evidence presumption of power, the letter makes its own ellipsis of the source and blunt force of Harry Reid’s argument; it completely ignores the legitimacy and weight of Reid’s source.

The New York Times published a series of master articles and commentaries in the middle of the debate, documenting and citing the numbers of millions of dollars the Koch organization spent and passed through its several front organizations to other groups to fund campaigns in the media and live events opposing the ACA. That documentation—including ads on YouTube—the Senate is told, in an oblique reference, is “erroneous.”

Here’s some what the Times has to say. In its editorial blog, Taking Note, on July 9, David Firestone wrote:

The advocacy group backed by the Kochs, Americans for Prosperity, is spending more than $1 million on an advertising Taking Note to (yet again) discredit President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s already been in effect for three years, but they want to soften it up just as its most important changes (mostly, the insurance mandate) begin to go into effect on Oct. 1.

The Kochs and their Republican allies continue to take advantage of the law’s complexity and public ignorance to spread the worst kind of misinformation, hoping once again to create chaotic town halls and anti-government protests once the mandate goes into effect.

Then on October 6, the Times printed:

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

All of this was “misrepresented,” in the words of the Koch organization.

But it led to Harry Reid making the unusual statement of calling out Koch by name in a Twitter post:

At the heart of any democratic action by government is a concept I introduced when exploring Edward Snowden’s actions a few weeks ago, a concept I called “permission.” An informal concept, it refers to the idea that every political act has around it a broad consensus about whether the act itself (not its outcome!) is right or wrong: permitted. It represents the politics of manners and determines our limits and edges.

In America, it reaches high, often violent extremes: secession, complete with declarations, votes, and an enduring war with sixteen times more dead that Vietnam; the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, in May 1838, the week it opened as a public meeting space and forum dedicated to presenting views and speaking out for abolition and women’s rights. Lynching, whose historic victims exceed the numbers of Iraqi war dead and was endorsed by Southern governors and representatives; Midwestern sundown towns that required blacks to be be out of the town limits by dusk; sterilization of women without permission (North Carolina led the way); prohibitions against interracial and same-sex marriage.

Include an impeachment trial for the “high crime” of a President lying about oral sex in the Oval Office with an intern.

The current push for permission includes: the demand that former Vice President Dick Cheney be charged with war crimes (unlikely) and for individual charges against Wall Street executives and functionaries. (Also unlikely: because of the oversight/review/decision chain, institutional patterns protect individuals from being singled out; instead, the firm which acts in concert is charged as a whole with penalties and fines—including the $13 billion Goldman Sachs voluntarily agreed to this week! )

But back to the President’s point: the recent fight was not over a win or loss, or about policy, although Republicans tried to make it so: it was a fight over “what are the rules?” Continue reading Obama’s Political Second Line

Stormy Monday, 10/14/13

StormyMondayCan Wall Street talk sense to Congressional Republicans? It’s a trick question, of course; nobody can talk sense to Congressional Republicans. Still, all eyes will be on the financial markets Monday as sluggish negotiations to reopen the government and avert a default continue.

After a weekend marked – make that marred by contrived freak show events, Debtpocalypse, a mere three days away, begins to seem almost appealing, like Snake Plissken triggering a global EMP at the end of Escape from LA. From the grubby spectacle at the World War II Memorial, featuring a joint appearance by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz (picture two egos the size of Macy’s parade balloons vying for attention) to the farcical Truckers Ride for the Constitution protest (which caused less traffic disruption than the recent surprise lunchtime stroll to Taylor Gourmet by the President and Vice President) to the supremely offensive display of a Confederate flag outside the First Family’s residence, Republicans have spent most of the weekend scribbling new chapters in the history of American public service. Poorly.

If you’re curious about White House doings this week, a visit to whitehouse.gov won’t provide much information, but you will see this message:

Due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation to fund the government, the information on this web site may not be up to date. Some submissions may not be processed, and we may not be able to respond to your inquiries.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will head the US delegation as representatives of the US, France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and Iran meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva to discuss curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program as a quid pro quo for a limited reversal of sanctions. On Sunday, Iran refused to comply with a demand that it ship its uranium stockpiles abroad, a demand Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called “a red line.” While President Obama’s late September phone call with Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, might not have signaled the new morning in relations between the two nations many had hoped, there’s still reason to remain hopeful. After all, House Republicans – as far as anyone knows – are not advising Iran’s leadership. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 10/14/13

Stormy Monday, 9/30/13

StormyMondayWith immigration reform, gun control, jobs, the economy and a host of other priorities ignored, mishandled or otherwise botched by the worst Congress of the modern era (and maybe ever), it’s time for Congressional Republicans to make an utter mess of government itself. This week the fools on the Hill try to beat the clock on a continuing resolution on spending, and may God help the United States of America.

Will the government still be fully operational at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday? Not if House Republicans and their fellow travelers in the Senate get their way. With the House GOP determined to make a continuing resolution contingent on the demise or delay of Obamacare, and the Senate’s Democratic majority determined to resist the effort, the eleventh-hour negotiations look suspiciously similar to the negotiations gone before, which you might remember have led precisely nowhere.

Even if, by some unanticipated miracle, a continuing resolution amenable to both chambers can be cobbled together, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reckons that the nation will bash its head on the debt ceiling no later than October 17, another unnecessary fiscal crisis tailor-made for Republican foot-stomping intransigence and pre-adolescent brinkmanship. The President summed all this up the other day, neatly:

“No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget.”

Also on Tuesday, the health insurance exchanges, a central component of Obamacare, are scheduled to open, and according to remarks by the President last Friday, they will: “Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there’s a government shutdown. That’s a done deal.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/30/13

Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Conflict Violence: The President's Stand On Syria And His Nobel Speech

DDBecause I stand firmly against conflict violence, I support the President’s plan for missile strikes against Syria.

Even before the hands fly to ask why, the fingers pointing tick off the bewildering absurdity of opposing violence by supporting military intervention!

Next, they point to the absolute foolishness of supporting any war or war event for any reason. They wag and say we have no business there. They point to a long short list of all the bad things that can happen as outcomes—escalation of the conflict, within and outside of borders, breaches of international relations, harmful economic exchanges, increased threats across the world, the blood-smeared bodies pointing to America not as a moral protector but as a bully, acting on its own whim, ignoring—and inflaming—the world’s outrage.

Before that contorted outrage is a mask of stoic indifference. A moral blindness hides behinds that outrage, a moral position that can only be challenged and met by military actions.

Its challenge is to end conflict violence. Conflict violence is a political form with its own goal and means. For several decades, conflict violence has been growing, and has come to be a central strategy in civil warfare and insurgencies.

Broadly, conflict violence has as its purpose the destabilization of the society or the state by direct attack on non-combat civilians.

Conflict violence has three components: it deliberately targets civilians, often whole villages and towns, most frequently women and children; it uses the bloodiest atrocities to carry out wanton killing (in Nigeria, just this summer, army trucks delivered stacks of dead bodies in the dark of night to a regional hospital for disposal, removing the dead from their ancestral homes and overwhelming the hospital); conflict violence is employed as a tactical and strategic end in itself. And conflict violence is protected by national borders—the rule of sovereignty that says states are not allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of others states.

Conflict violence is the most important moral, social, and military issue of violence around the globe. It cuts across ideological and religious lines and locales. It includes plunder and rape; its extreme is genocide. And so far, it’s avoided a reset. It receives mere news mentions, and gathers attention from underfunded organizations and an occasional, toothless UN resolution.

It is virtually unstoppable. It hides behind the sanctity of borders—the sacrosanct invention of the modern nation-state. Two women have been elected Presidents of African countries (Sierra Leone, Malawi) in part on platforms to try to bring it under control in their countries.

It’s a horror story, but it is meticulously planned and systemically carried out by stealth operations and denied always by governments. It is more egregious than terror.

Conflict Violence Across the Globe

Within its borders, a neighbor to the south, Guatemala, experienced raids on 626 villages that killed 200,000 Ixil Mayans in state-sponsored violence between 1966 to 1990. It took 30 years for the cases against a former president to be brought to trial for military-ordered mass deaths between 1982 and 1983. Last May, his conviction was overturned. His lawyer accused the Indians of lying to gain settlement money. Continue reading Conflict Violence: Obama, Syria and the Nobel Speech

Why I'm Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision

The Supreme Court returned a decision in the voting rights case, Shelby County, AL v. Holder (2013), that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. In short, the jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination no longer have to go to the Justice Department in advance of any changes in voting laws.

Please pardon my cynicism, but I’m not losing any sleep over this. It is not that it isn’t a bad decision; I think it is, but it does not rise to the level of the worst Supreme Court decisions. There are four of those, and two have invalidated the rights of black people, specifically Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), denying citizenship to all black people and invalidating the 1820 Missouri Compromise and allowing slavery in all territories. The other is Plessy v. Ferguson (1898), which allowed “separate but equal” Jim Crow segregation. The rights of black people have always been at the whim of the powerful and those whose rights are not in question at any given moment. The activist judges have done it again. Not the first time this has happened.

There are options the federal government still has; they will have to be prepared to work a lot harder. Section 5 is still intact, but weakened. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. However, that will be difficult with a divided Congress. Note that the corporatist Chief Justice said this out loud, so that is an option, though not an easy one. Section 2 is still intact: any jurisdiction that has passed a law that is discriminatory in nature can be taken to court. The Justice Department must remain vigilant, now even more so. Sections of the Voting Rights Act can be rewritten to pass Constitutional muster and be reauthorized by Congress. Maybe voting laws can be standardized at the federal level. I’m sure there are other options available.

There is something that can be done at the grass roots level, also. The obvious one is to use this as impetus to vote out the GOP and their racist counterparts at all levels. There is the coming demographic shift, especially in the red states, where people of color will eventually outnumber white people in general, not just in certain areas. There’s also the GOP’s vulnerability they tend to cater to older white racists. Those are becoming fewer in number, in spite of their attempts to increase their numbers, while those who do not vote GOP are increasing. The struggle is far from over. Continue reading Why I’m Not Losing Any Sleep on the Voting Rights Act Decision