Thursday Reads

Matisse-Marguerite-Reading1

Good Morning!!

I’m getting  slow start this morning after rereading some of yesterday’s morning thread and seeing Fannie’s and Beata’s comments. Life is such a mystery . . . it often seems sad and even meaningless. And yet life is wonderful and beautiful too.

I don’t even know how to express what I’m feeling right now. I just want to thank all of you for being here. When I get discouraged and disgusted with our politics and the behavior of some of my fellow humans, it helps me to share my feelings with you and to get your reactions.

Now let’s see what’s in the news this morning.

Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison yesterday. But with good behavior he could be released in as little as 7 years. Charlie Savage and Emmarie Huetteman at The New York Times:

In a two-minute hearing on Wednesday morning, the judge, Col. Denise R. Lind of the Army, also said that Private Manning would be dishonorably discharged and reduced in rank from private first class to private, the lowest rank in the military. She said he would forfeit his pay, but she did not impose a fine.

Before the sentencing, Private Manning sat leaning forward with his hands folded, whispering to his lawyer, David Coombs. His aunt and two cousins sat quietly behind him. As Colonel Lind read the sentence, Private Manning stood, showing no expression. He did not make a statement.

The materials that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists. He also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables, dossiers of detainees being imprisoned without trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….

Mr. Coombs later told reporters that he would apply for a presidential pardon next week and read a statement from Private Manning that he said would be included in his request.

“I only wanted to help people,” Private Manning’s statement said, adding, “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Pfc. Bradley Manning posing in a wig and lipstick.

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Pfc. Bradley Manning posing in a wig and lipstick.

Manning has expressed the desire to live as a woman, and although he may not be able to get hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery while he is in military prison, he has announced that he is now Chelsea Manning. From Joe Coscarelli at New York Magazine: Bradley Manning’s Long, Painful Road to Coming Out As Transgender.

Less than a day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for passing classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks, Army private Bradley Manning has a huge, if not exactly surprisingly, announcement: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” the 25-year-old wrote in a statement to Today. “Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.”

But the transition has colored much of Manning’s life for many years and factors heavily into how she became one of the most notable leakers in American history. Even if much of the world is only now paying attention to Manning’s gender-questioning, it’s always been a part of her story.

Manning’s full letter is titled “The Next Stage of My Life” and has notes of relief, her trial and sentencing finally complete after three years. “As I transition into this next phase of my life,” Manning wrote, “I want everyone to know the real me.”

Manning was wrestling with her sexual orientation while serving in Iraq and when she got involved with WikiLeaks. As reported by Steve Fishman in a July 2011 issue of New York, “Among fellow soldiers, Manning had to conceal the basic facts of his sexual orientation. On the web, he was proudly out and joined a ‘Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ group. He’d even begun to explore switching his gender, chatting with a counselor about the steps a person takes to transition from male to female.”

Manning will probably be in her early 30s when she is released from prison; so she’ll still have a long and probably interesting life ahead of her when that time comes.

Chris Lane

Chris Lane

Australians are calling for a boycott of U.S. travel after the senseless shooting of young Australian college student Chris Lane in Oklahoma. CNN:

The indiscriminate shooting of Christopher Lane, a 23-year-old Australian who was living his dream of studying in the United States on a baseball scholarship, has repulsed many in his home country and led to calls for Australian tourists to boycott the United States.

“It is another example of murder mayhem on Main Street,” former Australian deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

“People thinking of going to the USA for business or tourist trips should think carefully about it given the statistical fact you are 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the USA than in Australia per capita per million people.”

Police said Lane was on one of his regular runs through what has been described as the affluent town of Duncan on Friday about 3 p.m. when a car carrying three teenagers drove up behind him.

“They pulled up behind him and shot him in the back, then sped away,” said Capt. Jay Evans of the Duncan Police Department. “It could have been anybody — it was such a random act.”

Here’s a long article about the shooting from new.com.au: Chilling 911 call details final moments of Melbourne baseballer Chris Lane’s life.

What a heartbreaking story.

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The states of Arizona and Kansas have followed a suggestion from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, according to TPM: Accepting Scalia’s Offer, Arizona Sues Obama Administration On Voting Rights.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, was announced by Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne and Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and joined by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a high-profile architect of restrictionist laws, including Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.

The issue involves the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor voter” law, which requires states to let people register to vote simply by attesting they are citizens, when renewing their driver’s license or applying for social services. A 2004 law adopted by the voters in Arizona added the requirement that people registering to vote also provide proof of citizenship. The Supreme Court struck down that law earlier this year, concluding that it is trumped by the motor voter law. Arizona, the court ruled, could not add new requirements to the form prescribed by the federal law.

But during oral arguments in March, Scalia expressed his bafflement that Arizona did not launch a broader assault on the constitutionality of the NVRA form, written by the Election Assistance Commission. The state simply contended in that case that its proof of citizenship law did not violate the federal law. Even Scalia disagreed with that, voting against Arizona in the ruling, but also giving them a valuable tip in his 7-2 majority opinion.

“We hold that [the NVRA] precludes Arizona from requiring a Federal Form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Scalia wrote in the June decision. “Arizona may, however, request anew that the EAC include such a requirement among the Federal Form’s state-specific instructions, and may seek judicial review of the EAC’s decision under the Administrative Procedure Act.”

Sigh . . . read more at the link.

Bobby Jindal

According to a new PPP poll, only 28 percent of Louisiana voters still think Governor Bobby Jindal is doing a good job.

Three years ago in August PPP declared Bobby Jindal to be the most popular Governor in the country. 58% of voters approved of him to only 34% who disapproved. Jindal’s fortunes have seen an amazing shift since that time though, and our newest poll finds him to be the most unpopular Republican Governor of any state- and the second most unpopular Governor in the country overall.

Just 28% of voters now approve of Jindal to 59% who disapprove.  That’s an 11 point decline in his net approval just since February when he was already at a poor 37/57 standing. Even Republicans are pretty divided on Jindal (43/42) while independents (35/45) and Democrats (14/78) generally give him poor marks.

Jindal’s White House prospects are dismal if his home state voters have anything to say about it. Just 17% of Louisianans think he should run for President in 2016 to 72% who believe he should sit it out. He ties for 4th among Republican primary voters as their top choice for their 2016 candidate- Rand Paul leads with 18% to 17% for Jeb Bush, 11% for Paul Ryan, 10% for Jindal and Chris Christie, 8% for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, 5% for Rick Santorum, and less than 1% for Susana Martinez. (That’s also an embarrassingly poor showing for Santorum given that he easily won the state’s primary last year.)

Jindal wouldn’t be likely to get to a general election but the news for him there is bad too- he trails Hillary Clinton 47/40 in a hypothetical match up. Every other Republican we looked at is more competitive with Clinton in the state- Ryan leads her 46/44, Paul does 45/44, Bush ties her at 44 each, and she leads Christie just 42/41. It looks like Clinton would have a chance to make Louisiana unusually competitive in any instance, but particularly so against Jindal.

It’s difficult to believe that Jindal is polling that well against Hillary.

A few more short takes:

A new article in LA Weekly offers some startling revelations about Michael Hastings’ state of mind before he was killed in a one-car crash: Michael Hastings’ Dangerous Mind: Journalistic Star Was Loved, Feared and Haunted. Based on a friend’s descriptions of Hastings’ behavior, it sounds like he was so severely depressed that he was delusional.

From The A Register, speculations based on The Guardian’s bizarre claims that British intelligence agents forced them to destroy computers that contained U.S. secrets stolen by Edward Snowden: MYSTERY of Guardian mobos and graphics cards which ‘held Snowden files’

A funny Buzzfeed list (with gifs) contributed by Marc Ambinder: 12 Ways To Easily Identify An East Coast Transplant In LA.

A very weird story that demonstrates the institutional stupidity of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: FBI suspected William Vollmann was the Unabomber.

A fascinating story at Defense One: Area 51 Has Been Hiding U-2 Spy Planes, Not UFOs

Finally, our old friend David Sirota really outdid himself yesterday with this story at Salon: This cowardly silence is an act of war, in which he claims that President Obama’s failure to object to the UK detaining Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at Heathrow Airport is a crime against humanity . . . or something.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Aftermath of SCOTUS Voting Rights Decision

SCOTUS KKK

Good Morning!!

This is going to be a quickie post, because I’m feeling kind of sick this morning.

Although I’m thrilled with the DOMA decision yesterday, I still can’t get past my anger and sadness about the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act. So I’m just going to post the (above) “official 2013 photo” of the U.S. Supreme Court and some accompanying links that demonstrate the damage the Court has done in its horrendous decision on the Voting Rights Act.

I’ll begin with this excellent post by Linda Greenhouse at The New York Times: Current Conditions, which neatly summarizes the Court’s “conservative” wing’s blatant “judicial activism,” to quote a frequent charge of conservatives against “liberal” judges.

These have been a remarkable three days, as the Supreme Court finished its term by delivering the only four decisions that most people were waiting for. The 5-to-4 decisions striking down the coverage formula of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act will go far toward defining the Roberts court, which has concluded its eighth year. Monday’s place-holding ruling on affirmative action in higher education, although it decided very little, is also definitional, for reasons I’ll explain. There is a great deal to say about each decision, and about how each reflects on the court. My thoughts are preliminary, informed by that phrase in the chief justice’s voting rights opinion: current conditions.

By this phrase, the chief justice meant to suggest that there is a doctrinal basis for drawing a boundary around Congressional authority, for judicial insistence that a burden that Congress chooses to impose on the states has to be justified as a cure for a current problem. In the context of voting rights, an area over which the 15th Amendment gives Congress specific authority, this is a deeply problematic position that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion demolishes.

Please go read the whole column–it’s difficult to get Greenhouse’s thesis into an excerpt. The blatant hypocrisy of the “conservative” justices–especially Scalia is mind-boggling, especially when the stunning effects of the Voting Rights decision on “current conditions” are already obvious and dramatic–just as were the disastrous effect of the Citizens United decision. A few examples.

The Guardian:  Texas rushes ahead with voter ID law after supreme court decision

Officials in Texas said they would rush ahead with a controversial voter ID law that critics say will make it more difficult for ethnic minority citizens to vote, hours after the US supreme court released them from anti-discrimination constraints that have been in place for almost half a century.

The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, declared that in the light of the supreme court’s judgment striking down a key element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act he was implementing instantly the voter ID law that had previously blocked by the Obama administration. “With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”

Greensboro News and Record: NC senator: Voter ID bill moving ahead with ruling

Voter identification legislation in North Carolina will pick up steam again now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, a key General Assembly leader said Tuesday.

A bill requiring voters to present one of several forms of state-issued photo ID starting in 2016 cleared the House two months ago, but it’s been sitting since in the Senate Rules Committee to wait for a ruling by the justices in an Alabama case, according to Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the committee chairman. He said a bill will now be rolled out in the Senate next week.

The ruling essentially means a voter ID or other election legislation approved in this year’s session probably won’t have to receive advance approval by U.S. Justice Department attorneys or a federal court before such measures can be carried out.

Northwest Ohio.com: Voter ID and restricted early voting likely after SCOTUS ruling

ATLANTA (AP) — Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

AL.com:  Alabama photo voter ID law to be used in 2014, state officials say

MONTGOMERY, Alabama –  Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision clears the way for Alabama’s new photo voter ID law to be used in the 2014 elections without the need for federal preclearance, state officials said.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Secretary of State Beth Chapman said they believed the voting requirement, which is scheduled to take effect with the June 2014 primaries, can simply move forward.

“Photo voter ID will the first process that we have gone through under this new ruling,” Chapman said today.

Memphis Business Journal: Mississippi voter ID law could start next year

Voters in Mississippi may have to start showing a photo ID to vote by the middle of 2014, according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

According to the Associated Press, Hoseman spoke Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that certain state and local governments no longer need federal approval to change election laws. That ruling opens up the possibility that Mississippi will implement a voter identification requirement.

According to Think Progress, Arizona and South Dakota  will likely be trying to pass Voter ID laws soon. I’m sue that won’t be the end of it.

Just a few more links:

Joan Walsh: The ugly SCOTUS voting rights flim-flam

Ari Berman: What the Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand About the Voting Rights Act

Stephen Hill: So the Voting Rights Act Is Gutted—What Can Protect Minority Voters Now?

I’ll end there and leave it up to you guys to link to other important news stories. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Breaking News: DOMA Falls

moreweddingsEven though SCOTUS did not rule on the broader issue of marriage equality, DOMA has fallen.  The usual Klan of Religious Freaks dissented.  Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote.

The Supreme Court issued rulings on two highly-anticipated cases on gay marriage today. By 5-4, .

In a separate ruling, it declined to take on the broader issue of gay marriage. The court to bring the case to the court.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson explains the Prop. 8 ruling: “By a holding of 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority, the Supreme Court rules the petitioners lack standing so the court avoids the underlying issues, remands and wipes away the decision by 9th Circuit Court of appeals, which means for now the lower court ruling invalidating California’s Prop. 8 stands.”

That means same-sex marriages in California may resume, but the ruling does not have a broader implication across the country.

The Defense of Marriage Act case is simpler. As SCOTUSblog reports, the court struck down the federal law because it denies same-sex couples the “equal liberty” guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes such as Social Security survivors’ benefits, insurance benefits, immigration and tax filing.

Section 3 of the law defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” That provision had been struck down by eight lower courts before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor settled the matter for good.

This decision means that legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to the same federal benefits as married opposite sex couples.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

SCOTUS Blog has some analysis here.

Cutting to the marquee issue – whether DOMA is constitutional – the Court acknowledged that Congress can pass laws that affect marriage in limited ways, but in its view DOMA goes much further than that:  it applies to over a thousand federal laws and all federal regulations.  (In this week’s version of “Supreme Court Justices:  They’re Just Like Us,” the version of the opinion that was distributed to reporters misspells “statutes” as “statues,” suggesting that perhaps someone was up late last night finishing up the draft.)  But states, rather than the federal government, have historically been responsible for regulating and defining “marriage” – establishing their own (and sometimes different) minimum ages for marriage, for example.  In recent years, the Court explained, some states have decided to allow same-sex couples to marry, giving them the same protection and dignity that opposite-sex couples get from marriage.  But despite the traditional role of the states in regulating marriage, the Court reasoned, DOMA discriminates against same-sex couples by preventing the federal government from recognizing their marriages, and it does so to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage.

As a result of today’s decision, same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.  That conclusion (and the steps that the Court took to get there) drew the ire of the Court’s four more conservative Justices – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – who filed three separate dissenting opinions totaling nearly fifty pages.

Justice Antonin Scalia read from the bench to demonstrate his severe disagreement with the ruling.  The opinion is an “instant classic” that uses Scalia-isms like “jaw-dropping” and “rootless and shifting” to describe the Court’s rationales; at one point, he indicates that “[t]he sum of all the Court’s nonspecific hand-waving is that this law is invalid (maybe on substantive-due-process grounds, and perhaps with some amorphous federalism component playing a role).”  Although the four dissenters did not completely agree on everything, they were united in their belief that DOMA is constitutional.

I want to put this into a bit of perspective.  We are TWO days short of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Here, in summary, is what the Court did — and did not do — on same-sex marriage on the final day of its 2012-13 Term:

** It ruled unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3, which defines marriage for purposes of one thousand federal laws and multitudes of official regulations as the union of one man and one woman only — a definition that excludes probably millions of already-married same-sex couples from any of those benefits or opportunities.  “DOMA,” the Court majority said caustically, ”writes inequality into the entire U.S. Code.”

** It decided that sponsors of California’s “Proposition 8,” adopted by the state’s voters in an election almost five years ago, did not have a legal right to be in the Supreme Court or in a federal appeals court to try to defend that measure from constitutional attack.  That is likely to have the early impact of putting into final effect a San Francisco federal judge’s 2010 decision striking down Proposition 8 under the U.S. Constitution.   Some 18,000 California same-sex couples already had been married when they had a brief chance to do so as the issue developed in that state, but now millions are likely to gain the right to marry when the judge’s ruling is implemented by state officials.  Happening perhaps in just a few weeks, that would make California the fourteenth — and largest — state to permit such marriages (along with Washington, D.C.).

** It declared, in quite explicit terms, that it was not deciding at this point whether the Constitution guarantees gays and lesbians a right to marry or whether the Constitution forbids states’ bans on such marriages.  That will leave the promoters of marriage equality to continue with their efforts, in state legislatures and in lower courts, to try to win the right one more state at a time.   The Court itself has a chance to take up that basic issue, as early as tomorrow, in a pair of new cases — from Arizona and Nevada — but it may not yet be ready to do so.

** And the Court did not spell out a new constitutional test for courts to use in judging new laws or other government actions that treat homosexuals less favorably than other people in similar settings and factual contexts.   Although DOMA’s benefits ban was nullified under the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of legal equality, the majority opinion did not sort out explicitly which level of judicial review — in escalating toughness — is supposed to be used in gay rights cases.  In fact, the test that was applied this time appeared to be notably indistinct.

With the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act’s benefits ban in Section 3, for legally married gays and lesbians, the Court immediately — even if inadvertently — gave rise to a situation in which couples living in states that will not allow them to marry because they are homosexuals will still be able to qualify for federal benefits, many of which are handed out or managed by state governments.

But the ruling did not do anything explicitly about another section of DOMA — Section 2, which gives the states the right to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.  That thus raised the prospect that a same-sex couple married in one of the states now allowing such unions could face obstacles to their marital rights when they moved into states that still do not recognize their unions.  This might be a particular problem for already-married gay couples serving in the military, who often have to move from state to state.

Although Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., dissented from the ruling in the DOMA case, he went to special lengths in his opinion in that case to apply the states’ rights language that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion had employed in justifying the nullification of Section 3.

Roberts wrote, borrowing words from the Kennedy opinion: “While ‘the state’s power in defining the marital relation is of central relevance’ to the majority’s decision to strike down DOMA here, that power will come into play on the other side of the board in future cases about the constitutionality of state marriage definitions.  So too will be concerns for state diversity and sovereignty that weighs against DOMA’s constitutionality in this case.”

The Court, the Chief Justice added, “may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples.”  His remarks about the majority arguments on states’ rights in this field seemed to be telegraphing his views on the basic definition of marriage — and an implied suggestion that lower courts might be interested in following.

At least in one regard, we are closer to the reality of liberty and justice for all.


Denying Southern Reality and Other Acts of a Politically Motivated SCOTUS

220px-1900sc_SM_DixieI think y’all know by now that I was raised culturally southern.  I was born in the South.  I live in the deep South and have for nearly two decades.   We’ve been regaled recently with the news that Southern Cuisine maven Paula Dean still longs for the good ol’ days of smiling black servants or slaves.  We ‘ve heard Haley Barbor talk up the old Southern institutions that were the institutional face of the KKK as being positive community builders. I still can’t believe that Mississippi doesn’t celebrate Memorial Day because it is a “Yankee Holiday” and enshrines the Confederate version by declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month”.  But, you do not need these folksy stories of the obvious racism in the South to understand why today’s SCOTUS decision is a complete sham.   Scalia has said that the Voting Rights Act is a “racial entitlement” in the past.  It is not.  It protects disenfranchised voter’s most basic right in a democracy.  This is another example of the hypocrisy of the ‘conservative’ wing of the court.  This is pure judicial activism.

Here is a list of things from Bader Ginsberg’s scathing dissent that lets you know exactly why the VRA is still necessary and is about protecting rights not creating entitlements.

Ginsburg’s dissent also rattled off these eight examples of race-based voter discrimination in recent history:

    • “In 1995, Mississippi sought to reenact a dual voter registration system, ‘which was initially enacted in 1892 to disenfranchise Black voters,’ and for that reason was struck down by a federal court in 1987.”
    • “Following the 2000 Census, the City of Albany, Georgia, proposed a redistricting plan that DOJ found to be ‘designed with the purpose to limit and retrogress the increased black voting strength…in the city as a whole.’”
    • “In 2001, the mayor and all-white five-member Board of Aldermen of Kilmichael, Mississippi, abruptly canceled the town’s election after ‘an unprecedented number’ of AfricanAmerican candidates announced they were running for office. DOJ required an election, and the town elected its first black mayor and three black aldermen.”
    • “In 2006, the court found that Texas’ attempt to redraw a congressional district to reduce the strength of Latino voters bore ‘the mark of intentional discrimination that could give rise to an equal protection violation,’ and ordered the district redrawn in compliance with the VRA…In response, Texas sought to undermine this Court’s order by curtailing early voting in the district, but was blocked by an action to enforce the §5 pre-clearance requirement.”
    • “In 2003, after African-Americans won a majority of the seats on the school board for the first time in history, Charleston County, South Carolina, proposed an at-large voting mechanism for the board. The proposal, made without consulting any of the African-American members of the school board, was found to be an ‘exact replica’ of an earlier voting scheme that, a federal court had determined, violated the VRA…DOJ invoked §5 to block the proposal.”
    • “In 1993, the City of Millen, Georgia, proposed to delay the election in a majority-black district by two years, leaving that district without representation on the city council while the neighboring majority white district would have three representatives…DOJ blocked the proposal. The county then sought to move a polling place from a predominantly black neighborhood in the city to an inaccessible location in a predominantly white neighborhood outside city limits.”
  • “In 2004, Waller County, Texas, threatened to prosecute two black students after they announced their intention to run for office. The county then attempted to reduce the avail ability of early voting in that election at polling places near a historically black university.”
  • In 1990, Dallas County, Alabama, whose county seat is the City of Selma, sought to purge its voter rolls of many black voters. DOJ rejected the purge as discriminatory, noting that it would have disqualified many citizens from voting ‘simply because they failed to pick up or return a voter update form, when there was no valid requirement that they do so.’”

SCOTUS Blog has some interesting analysis of the decision which is shocking in its naked political approach.

To those who will be distraught, outraged, or fearful, the essential question at stake in the Court’s decision – and in the continuing vitality of Section 4 — is whether we believe racial discrimination in voting still exists in the South.  The question being framed this way, the Court’s decision today will appear to be, at best, a denial of reality and a reflection of a naïve “post-racial” view that in the Obama era, racial discrimination in voting has ended.   Justice Sotomayor, at oral argument, perfectly reflected this perspective on what the decision represents when she posed this pointed question to the VRA’s challengers:   “Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?”  The answer to that question must be no.  From this vantage point, then, as long as racial discrimination in voting still does take place at all in the South, Section 4 of the VRA – the part the Court invalidated – remains not just justifiable, but essential.

In addition, to many people, the VRA symbolizes protection of the crown jewel of rights, the right of access to the ballot box.   For those who know the history, this right was born from the blood and the bodies of all those who had been given the last full measure of their devotion to secure full access for all to the ballot box – those beaten on the bridge from Selma, Alabama in 1965, the three civil rights workers lynched in the Mississippi summer of 1964, and many others.  How can the Court find unconstitutional an Act that plays any role at all in ensuring political equality regarding this most sacred right?  And why should the Court second-guess Congress on these issues?

Yet to others, including the Court’s pivotal actor, Justice Kennedy, the essential question at stake is whether our political system is frozen in place on issues concerning race.  Do our political institutions and culture have the capacity to recognize that dramatic changes at the intersection of race and voting have taken place over recent decades?  Section 4 was created in 1965 as a short-term measure for five years; in initially upholding that system, the Court called it “an uncommon exercise of congressional power” justified by the “exceptional circumstances” of the massive disfranchisement of black voters (and many poor whites) that existed when the VRA was enacted.  In 1970, Congress extended this system for another five years; in 1975, for another eight; and in 1982, for twenty-five more years.   Then, in 2006, in the provision the Court struck down, Congress re-authorized this system for another twenty-five years, until 2031.  Thus we moved from a five-year regime in 1965 for exceptional circumstances to a sixty-six-year regime that continues to single out nine states (and fifty-three other counties) for unique federal control.

But of even more symbolic significance, from this perspective:  these areas all became covered because of their voting practices in 1964 or, at the latest, 1975 – nearly forty years ago.  And these are the same areas, and nearly the only areas, that have remained covered ever since.  Though the Act formally creates a mechanism to permit these areas to prove their current entitlement to be relieved of coverage, this part has never been a meaningful way for the Act to unwind itself from within:  fewer than one percent of all the counties originally covered that have significant minority populations have ever emerged from the Act.  From this vantage point, the question the case was “about,” then, is this:  how can Congress act as if nothing significant enough has changed in the last forty years to justify any meaningful change at all in Section 4?  Even if areas of discriminatory voting practices remain, surely they cannot mirror so exactly the areas of which this was true forty or fifty years ago.

From this starting place, Section 4 symbolizes that the issue of race remains so charged that our political system lacks the capacity to move forward to any extent at all.  As Justice Kennedy put it at the argument:  Congress “should use criteria that are relevant to the existing [conditions] – and Congress just didn’t have the time or the energy to do this; it just re-enacted it.” And despite the popular image that Section 4 is about protecting access to the ballot box, Section 4 long ago in practice became more about racial redistricting than access to the ballot box.  While the Justice Department in recent decades blocked access changes on average fewer than twice a year, it blocked redistrictings nearly fourteen times as often.  Indeed, in the 2006 Act itself, Congress itself did not rely primarily on ballot-box access problems to justify renewing Section 4, but on issues like redistricting.  If Section 4 is “about” access to the ballot box in the public imagination, to the Court majority, I suspect, Section 4 is about racial redistricting.

 Can this decision bring about any good?  Well, it is possible because it should be clear now there is a total Republican assault on modernity and a world where white men don’t get to tell every one else what to do.  The last election showed that the nation’s minorities and women were not about to let that happen again.

On its face, this looks like a big victory for Republicans. But is it really? I suspect it will turn out to be a poisoned chalice. Many of the GOP’s current problems stem from the fact that it is overly beholden to its white, Southern base, at a time when the country is rapidly becoming more racially diverse. In order to expand its base of power beyond the House of Representatives, the GOP needs to expand its appeal to minority voters. As the ongoing battle over immigration reform demonstrates, that process is going poorly and looks like it will be very difficult.

The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act will make it easier for Republicans to hold and expand their power in those mainly Southern states. That will, in turn, make it easier for them to hold the House. But it will also intensify the Southern captivity of the GOP, thereby making it harder for Republicans to broaden their appeal and win back the White House.

There is only so long that these neoconfederates can continue to push their backwards agendas through the federal government.  They need to be thrown out of statehouses too.  This seems to me an odd continuation of the Civil War.  Nixon’s Southern Strategy will divide this country for decades to come. The hypocrisy of judicial overreach in this decision and most others that are penned by Scalia, Alito, Thomas, or Kennedy just oozes political scamming and it makes us all look bad.  This is just another embarrassing attempt to stop the future. Future Courts will make hay of it.


Friday Reads

PostcardOldAbsintheHouse

Good Morning!

So, I am trying to get with it again.  Seems like it’s always something.  Grades to get in.  Issues with my elderly father.  Daughters so busy that I seemed to have slipped their minds.  Doctor’s appointments. I am going to try to take this weekend to catch up with reality.  I should also make a point of going out and enjoying my home city which is one of the great places of this country.

Speaking of reality, there is so much weirdness around the issue of immigration these days that I thought I’d post on it.  I live in what can only be described as the melting pot of all the melting pots in the country.  It is what makes us unique in the world.  We’ve got a unique cuisine, culture, and music because we just soaked it all in from every one else and put it out there to grow.  But, there’s a lot of people that are scared of that kind of thing.  Just smell that Gumbo!  Listen to that Jazz!  Embrace the dancers of a second line!  None of that would exist without the blending of Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, and all kinds of Europeans!

In the land of tabloid terrors, immigrants loom large. Flick through the pages or online comments of some of the racier newspapers, and you’ll see immigrants being accused of stealing jobs or, if not that, of being workshy and “scrounging benefits”.

Such views may be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they do seem to reflect a degree of public ambivalence, and even hostility, towards immigrants in a number of OECD countries. Anecdotal evidence is not hard to find. A columnist from The Economist reported this encounter between a British legislator and one of his constituents, Phil: “‘I’m not a racist,’ says Phil, an unemployed resident of the tough Greenwich estate in Ipswich. ‘But we’ve got to do something about them.’”

Surveys offer further evidence: For example, a 2011 study in five European countries and the United States found that at least 40% of respondents in each country regarded immigration as “more of a problem than an opportunity”. More than half the respondents in each country also agreed with the proposition that immigrants were a burden on social services. This sense that immigrants are living off the state appears to be widespread. But is it true?

New research from the OECD indicates that it’s not. In general across OECD countries, the amount that immigrants pay to the state in the form of taxes is more or less balanced by what they get back in benefits. Even where immigrants do have an impact on the public purse – a “fiscal impact” – it amounts to more than 0.5% of GDP in only ten OECD countries, and in those it’s more likely to be positive than negative. In sum, says the report, when it comes to their fiscal impact, “immigrants are pretty much like the rest of the population”.

The extent to which this finding holds true across OECD countries is striking, although there are naturally some variations. Where these exist, they largely reflect the nature of the immigrants who arrive in each country. For example, countries like Australia and New Zealand rely heavily on selective entry, and so attract a lot of relatively young and well-educated immigrants. Other countries, such as in northern Europe, have higher levels of humanitarian immigration, such as refugees and asylum-seekers.

That said, there’s been a general push in many countries in recent years to attract better educated immigrants, in part because of the economic value of their skills but also because such policies attract less public resistance. For example, a survey in the United Kingdom, where resistance to immigration is relatively high, reported that 64% of respondents wanted to reduce immigration of low-skilled workers but only 32% wanted fewer high-skilled immigrants. Indeed, one objection that’s regularly raised to lower-skilled immigrants is the fear that they will live off state benefits.

But, here again, the OECD report offers some perhaps surprising insights. It indicates that low-skilled migrants – like migrants in general – are neither a major drain nor gain on the public purse. Indeed, low-skilled immigrants are less likely to have a negative impact than equivalent locals.

So what connects homophobia, Marco Rubio and US immigration Policy?  Basically, the connection is outright discrimination for any GLBT who wants to be an American.  Rubio has threatened to leave negotiations on immigration if any GBLT rights are included.  He also says it should be legal to fire any one for their sexual orientation.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a co-author and key proponent of the Senate immigration bill, said he will revoke his support if an amendment is added that allows gay Americans to petition for same-sex spouses living abroad to secure a green card.

“If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I’m done,” Rubio said Thursday during an interview on the Andrea Tantaros Show. “I’m off it, and I’ve said that repeatedly. I don’t think that’s going to happen and it shouldn’t happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is.”

The amendment, introduced by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, would grant green cards to foreign partners of gay Americans. Leahy originally introduced the measure during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, but he withdrew it under pressure from Republican lawmakers who said it would reduce the chance of the bill passing.

Why does he think that firing any one for sexual orientation is also on target?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is touted as a top GOP presidential prospect in 2016, thinks it should be legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation.

ThinkProgress spoke with the Florida Senator at the opening luncheon of the annual Faith and Freedom Forum on Thursday and asked him about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country.

Though Rubio bristles at the notion of being called a “bigot,” he showed no willingness to help protect LGBT workers from discrimination. “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation,” Rubio told ThinkProgress.

KEYES: The Senate this summer is going to be taking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which makes it illegal to fire someone for being gay. Do you know if you’ll be supporting that?

RUBIO: I haven’t read the legislation. By and large I think all Americans should be protected but I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.

KEYES: What about on race or gender?

RUBIO: Well that’s established law.

KEYES: But not for sexual orientation?

Watch the video at the link for his astoundingly bigoted answer.

The US Congress has just been told that Syria has used chemical weapons on its rebels.  What does this mean for the US and for our allies?courtyard new orleans

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country’s civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Supplying weapons to the rebels has been a long-sought goal of advocates of a more aggressive American response to the Syrian civil war. A proposal made last year by David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and backed by the State Department and the Pentagon to supply weapons was rejected by the White House because of President Obama’s deep reluctance to be drawn into another war in the Middle East.

But even with the decision to supply lethal aid, the Obama administration remains deeply divided about whether to take more forceful action to try to quell the fighting, which has killed more than 90,000 people over more than two years. Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late.

Some senior State Department officials have been pushing for a more aggressive military response, including airstrikes to hit the primary landing strips that they said the Assad government uses to launch the chemical weapons attacks, ferry troops around the country and receive shipments of arms from Iran.

But White House officials remain wary, and on Thursday Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of Mr. Obama’s top foreign policy advisers, all but ruled out the imposition of a no-fly zone and indicated that no decision had been made on other military actions.

Mr. Obama declared last August that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would cross a “red line” that would prompt a more resolute American response.

cafe du monde vintageSo what does the latest Supreme Court Decision on free speech mean?  Oddly enough, it means no protests in their front yard!

The Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds.

The rule approved Thursday comes two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.

The new rule bans activities such as picketing, speech-making, marching or vigils. It says “casual use” by visitors or tourists is not banned.

That may be a way of addressing the concern posed by a federal judge who threw out the law barring processions and expressive banners on the Supreme Court grounds.

The judge said the law was so broad that it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court.

The president of the Rutherford Institute, which challenged the law on a protester’s behalf, calls the new rule “repugnant” to the Constitution.

What on earth ?

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a new regulation barring most demonstrations on the plaza in front of the courthouse.

The regulation did not significantly alter the court’s longstanding restrictions on protests on its plaza. It appeared, rather, to be a reaction to a decision issued Tuesday by a federal judge, which narrowed the applicability of a 1949 federal law barring “processions or assemblages” or the display of “a flag, banner or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization or movement” in the Supreme Court building or on its grounds.

The law was challenged by Harold Hodge Jr., a student from Maryland who was arrested in 2011 on the Supreme Court plaza for wearing a large sign protesting police mistreatment of blacks and Hispanics.

Lawyers representing the Supreme Court’s marshal told the judge hearing Mr. Hodge’s case that the law was needed to allow “unimpeded ingress and egress of visitors to the court” and to preserve “the appearance of the court as a body not swayed by external influence.”

But Judge Beryl A. Howell of Federal District Court in Washington ruled for Mr. Hodge. “The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad and irreconcilable with the First Amendment,” she wrote, adding that the law was “unconstitutional and void as applied to the Supreme Court plaza.”

The Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the law in 1983, in United States v. Grace, saying it could not be applied to demonstrations on the public sidewalks around the court.

On the grand plaza in front of the courthouse, however, Supreme Court police have been known to order visitors to remove buttons making political statements.

The regulation issued Thursday, which the court said was “approved by the chief justice of the United States,” requires visitors to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” It bars demonstrations, which it defines as “picketing, speech making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”

So, that is my offering this morning.  I’m headed to the doctor but will be around later!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?