Author Archives: PB Goodfriend
“Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time — and everybody knows it.”
-President Barack Obama, addressing Las Vegas high school students whose families are affected by his use, this week, of executive authority on immigration reform
The Republicans know it. The conservative cabal that pulls the party’s purse strings knows it. They would have you believe that getting in the “back of the line” is the only fair way to handle immigration reform. The problem is, some people are doomed to wait in line for almost 25 years, and the more people we put in the line, the longer that line gets.
Maybe that’s what the far right wants, a broken system where, as the president said, Friday, families are “stuck in line for years.” After all, it fits in with their narrative of a broken and incompetent government.
The State Department has three major categories of visas it considers: family members of U.S. citizens, employment based visas (for which there is a relatively short waiting period) and diversity visas (a quota system for global regions that is only good for the fiscal year in which the application is filed).
“There are so many different lines. It’s very hard for people to understand that there are so many different categories and that each wait time is different,” Mary Giovagnoli, of the solutions oriented Immigration Policy Council, told the Washington Post in January.
A year ago, according to the State Department, there were 4.3 million people with family sponsored visa requests. The latest bulletin from Foggy Bottom says that the last family visas for siblings from Mexico it was considering were applied for in February, 1997. For married children of U.S. citizens, the last visas approved for Mexicans were applied for in November, 1993. If you are a citizen and want a visa for your sister in the Philippines, the last visas granted were for people who applied in May, 1991!
And just because someone applied for a visa back then doesn’t mean they are next on the list, because only a limited number of employment based and family requested papers are available every year to applicants from each country.
“The idea that the people can simply get in the back of the line is a little bit simplistic in practice,” Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration policy think tank supported by philanthropic and government policy advocacy groups, told the Fiscal Times, this past spring.
At least one Republican considering a 2016 presidential run seems to understand the difficulties of the “wait in line” concept. At a panel of GOP governors who are seen as contenders for the nomination, Ohio Gov. John Kasich went counter to the crowd and the rigid stance of his on-stage colleagues in Boca Raton, Florida, when he admitted:
“My sense is I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it. It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. … At the end of the day it may be necessary.”
President Obama’s executive action acknowledges that reality, and he admits he can’t do anything about the wait, right now. His order, though, is neither amnesty nor a path to citizenship. That, he admits, requires Congressional action. The only thing it does is keep law abiding, tax paying folks who have children who are citizens or are otherwise here legally, from being deported. As he said on Friday:
“If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, you pass a background check, you are willing to pay your fair share of taxes –- then you’re going to be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows, get right with the law.”
The only line that may be getting shorter is the one for employment based visas.
Both the memoranda the president signed are geared to spur the executive branch to find means and methods, with the help of immigration advocacy groups and technology companies, to expedite repairing the broken process for everyone. That is well within his authority. It is unrealistic to expect the Republicans in the upcoming Congress to have the political courage to do any meaningful immigration reform, that takes into account the affect our inaction has on millions of families.
“The U.S. is kind of torn between wanting to be generous, yet not wanting to be too generous,” Sumption said in May, “And that means that on paper U.S. laws pretend to give people the right to come to the country, but in practice they have to wait so long that many of them may as well not have that right.”
For more information:
“There is much that is going right in this country, and there is still time for Democrats to say so.”
- New York Times Editorial Board, October 21, 2014
If President Obama would not have delayed acting on immigration until after the election, he may have saved the seats Democrats lost in the Senate, that he was trying to protect by not acting. That wasn’t his idea. It was the idea of the Democratic Senate candidates.
If the Democrats running statewide in North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky had not tried so hard to distance themselves from Obama, by not meeting with him, not having him campaign for them, touting his economic record and and his call for a raise in the minimum wage, the successes of Obamacare and the efforts at fair pay and immigration reform, they might have won.
They disavowed the leader of their party by refusing to say if they voted for him, by stammering through questions about his policies and even by omitting their party affiliation from their campaign ads. They could not run away fast enough.
When the president said at an economic speech at Northwestern University in early October, “But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” Democrats groaned.
Then he told Rev. Al Sharpton, at the end of the same month:
“The bottom line is though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education.”
And in an effort to get the Democratic base fired up in Georgia, he called an Atlanta radio station two days later and gave the Republicans this little morsel for an attack ad:
“If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the Senate. And that means that we can keep on doing some good work.”
The problem with all of these assertions that the president made isn’t that they weren’t true. They were. The problem for the Democrats in states the president recognized he lost in 2012, was that they became blatheringly and disingenuously defensive. Rather than assert, “Yes, I support these policies. They are good for the middle class and for the American people,” they sought to distinguish themselves from President Obama with ineffective TV ads.
“I’ve always believed that it’s not an effective strategy to run against a president of your own party, unless you’ve been actively opposed to that president,” Obama political strategist David Axelrod told the Washington Post, a week before the election. “You’re going to get tagged with it anyway.”
They could have danced with the president. Instead, they left him by the punch bowl to talk about his agenda and accomplishments to anyone who would listen.
The New York Times editorial board urged the Obama deniers to change their ways. “By not standing firmly for their own policies,” they advised, “Democrats send a message to voters that the unending Republican criticism of the president is legitimate.”
In Georgia, in a rebuttal to charges that he was slow to help his fellow Democrats and was cozying up to Republicans to aid his future plans, Atlanta mayor and sometimes Obama surrogate Kasim Reed retorted, in a Tweet, “When the President landed to visit the CDC. I was there to greet him. That’s what a ‘true Democrat’ would do.”
And, he went on:
“I never saw any of them. When I was running for re-election, I proudly accepted President Obama’s endorsement and support… a ‘true Demcrat (sic)’ would not lead their party to failure and then get on Fox5 [local news] & blame ‘Obama, Obama, Obama…'”
“Wow,” he concluded.
There is no telling how Grimes, Pryor, Nunn or Hagan would have fared had they been more welcoming of the president. It’s all hindsight. The only thing for sure is that even good candidates with the best campaign volunteers in the country are unable to bring out the base better than he can. By definition, the base is the most committed to party principles. If you voice it, authentically, they will turn out for you. A “D” after your name doesn’t get you votes. Being what your party stands for does. Being “Republican Light” does not.
“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.” – Samuel Johnson
“It stung like hell.”
– Georgia Democratic Party Chair, DuBose Porter, in a conciliatory email to party activists
If a dramatic election happens and no one votes, does it still mean the electorate changes to purple?
The finger pointing over who was to blame for Tuesday’s devastating losses started as soon as the polls closed – maybe even before in places like Colorado and Kentucky, where flawed campaigns and unforced errors by candidates killed off an incumbent and skewered a rising star.
In Georgia, the senate campaign of Democrat Michelle Nunn was shaking its heads in near disbelief. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported it:
“As soon as the GOP nomination was settled, the names ‘Harry Reid’ and ‘Barack Obama’ were hung around Nunn’s neck like a two-headed albatross. She couldn’t get out from under it, her team said.”
But Democrats and political analysts all realize that, for the most part, it wasn’t the candidates. It wasn’t the message. It wasn’t the low approval numbers for President Obama in states that could have been in play, or the billions spent by outside groups to link Democratic candidates to him and the majority leader.
It was the voters – those who chose to show up and those who stayed home.
“So, to everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you,” President Obama acknowledged at a post-election briefing, Wednesday afternoon, adding, “To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”
As Politico rightly points out, the president’s choice of words indicate he doesn’t see the Republicans’ big night as any kind of mandate from the people, since it’s only a third that chose to have their voices heard. A lopsided third, but a third nonetheless.
Who showed up? In Georgia, even with a turnout that was better than the national average, at just under 50 percent, neither young folks nor minorities voted in sufficient numbers to achieve the results Democrats were looking for. It was older white people who did their civic duty. According to exit polling reported by ABC News, only 13 percent of those under 30 voted nationally, down six points from the way they turned out in 2012. Yet in the Peach State, 59 percent of that demographic went for Michelle Nunn.
But the real damage to the Nunn and Jason Carter campaigns came from a lack of African American voters both registered and at the polls. While African Americans accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Democrats’ tally in Georgia, it was only about the same as the numbers who voted in 2012. In order to win, there had to be an increase in voter registration of a half-a-million voters. Voter registration groups were only able to garner 85,000.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was slow to show his enthusiasm for Carter’s campaign, pointed out the shortfall to the New York Times:
“‘We needed to change the electorate,’ Mr. Reed said. He faulted the campaigns of Michelle Nunn, who was following in her father’s footsteps in running for the Senate, and Jason Carter, a grandson of Jimmy Carter who was running for governor, for not spending more time and resources to register and turn out what he said were roughly 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia, and 200,000 unregistered Latinos.”
Why were so many needed? “The pros estimated they needed 500,000 new black voters in order to get 200,000 to the polls,” reports Walter Jones of Insider Advantage.
William Boone, a poli-sci professor at Clark University, told Jones that:
“…blacks tend to think of the president as the most significant office and figure other posts are not important enough to bother voting over. In a sense, that makes Democrats victims of their own presidential campaigning where they overpromise what control of the White House means without explaining the role of Congress, governors and legislators.”
Jones goes on to point out:
“Consider that black males typically have a 66 percent turnout in presidential elections but just a 44 percent rate in non-presidential years. Compare that to white males’ 75 in presidential years and 58 percent in off years, a 22-percent[age point] falloff versus a 17.”
While volunteers were using Obama-proven targeting methods to make phone calls and knock on doors to motivate people to vote, it just wasn’t enough. “Some of my biggest, hottest precincts, there was no activity, no street corner activity, no poll activity,” lamented State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to the AJC. “They were running an Obama-style campaign without Obama. It’s like doing ‘Othello’ without Othello.” Or an audience.
In the end, Michelle Nunn was only able to capture 23 percent of the white vote. Their estimates said they needed to capture at least 30 percent. Republican David Perdue took 70 percent. Seventy.
The stark contrast was evident by the actual impact in two of the least racially diverse counties in the state. The AJC reported Wednesday:
“In his march to victory, Senator-elect Perdue, had his best showing (84 percent of the vote) in Pierce County, which has a white voting population of 83 percent. He did worst (15 percent) in Clayton County, which has a white voting population of 14 percent.”
How did they manage to grab such a large chunk of the electorate? During the last week of the campaign, Louisiana’s incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu told NBC’s Chuck Todd it was something insidious in our social and political DNA. “I’ll be very, very honest with you,” she said, “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
Former evangelist and author Frank Schaeffer says it comes down to two things – lies and racism:
“Since the economy has rebounded, health care reform has worked, all that remained for the GOP was to lie. And since the base of the GOP is white aging southern evangelicals the GOP was in luck. These are easy folks to lie to. That’s because they already accept an alternative version of reality. Also, of course since the lies are about a black man, that doesn’t hurt. Yes, race is ‘still’ an issue.”
“This is about race,” a particularly nasty viewer told a C-Span host on a call-in show, Thursday. “The Republicans hate that n—– Obama.”
While that may be at least partly true, it’s important to keep in mind no group is politically monolithic (Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal received 10 percent of the black vote in his reelection, after all), and there is definitely work to do for the Democrats to reach out to white Americans. “Republicans know they have to expand their base to include minority voters,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D) told the AJC, “and we need to do a better job expanding ours to include white voters.”
Despite the Republican slate’s unexpected margin of victory, Georgia’s Democratic Party chair, DuBose Porter, was optimistic.”Make no mistake about it ya’ll,” he wrote to supporters, “Georgia was, and is, in play.”
The goal remains to expanded the voter rolls for 2016, so the state can make a tectonic shift and awaken from this apathetic slumber.
“I understand taking a bit of time to lick these wounds. But not too much time. We have work to do. We will continue to build. We will continue to raise hope. We will continue to believe in Democrats.”
Two years is not a lot of time. Before the next state legislature convenes and tries to limit voter registration, we need to go back out there and get more than 500,000 new voters registered. Two years, starting last week. Go.
PS: Click here for a full list of states with on-line voter registration. If you live in Georgia, you can register anytime through the Secretary of State’s website: https://registertovote.sos.ga.gov/GAOLVR/
Time, money and faith – this is the most I have given of all three to Democrats in Georgia. I’ve written posts. I’ve knocked on nearly 400 doors. I’ve opened my wallet to attend and host fundraisers.
I do this not only to return Democrats to power in statewide and national offices, but also because I believe that this state cannot succeed, this country cannot turn the corner economically and socially, with Republicans steering policy in a hard right direction. In this part of of the country, when it comes to Republican politics, there is no soft right, no simple fork. Every right turn the Georgia GOP makes is 90 degrees from center.
In the phone calls and the canvassing, I have met a handful of folks who do not see the point in voting. I can tell them, as Michelle Obama did on a visit in support of our candidates in September, that if we can just get 50 more votes in each precinct, we can turn Georgia blue. I can tell them that Michelle Nunn will work for all Georgians, bringing her skills in philanthropic activism, getting those with means to have a social conscience and help those in need. I can tell them that Jason Carter should be our next governor because he believes in strengthening education, understands that Medicaid expansion would return federal money to our state that we’ve already paid, and could help 650,000 Georgians, and will do everything he can to restore integrity to the ethically challenged office of the state’s chief executive.
I can tell them that, but the most important thing to remember, is that even though we have been disappointed by Democrats as well as Republicans, and the Democratic Party in the South has a long way to go to be the party of FDR, getting Southern Democrats elected now, prepares the soil for the acceptance of the kind of liberal, progressive Democrat we really want. It is much easier to plant a seed in accepting ground than to keep trying to force a plant to root in frozen, unyielding soil.
The time is now. Vote Tuesday. The future of a progressive South is in your hands.
“We have to make a hard right hand turn.”
- David Perdue, Georgia Republican candidate for U.S. Senate
Put it down to defensiveness born of desperation. David Perdue has been running marginally close to his Democratic rival, Michelle Nunn, over a string of recent polls, in a state he and the GOP thought was likely in their pocket. He has been forced to scream inside the echo chamber of his party’s conservative base, to get their attention and rile them up to go vote. That may explain why he dog-whistled his way through the pair’s last debate, Sunday night, in Atlanta.
Over and over, he reiterated his charge that Nunn was “handpicked by Obama,” and therefor would be a “rubber stamp” for his policies because “she’s not going to bite the hand that feeds her.”
He also charged that Nunn’s campaign has been funded by “liberal parties who want to come in here and steal this election,” like gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg (hardly a liberal) who recently gave over $300,000 to a PAC supporting the Democrat.
Nunn was gracious, but sharp. To the former point about the president, she simply stated that Obama was not on the ballot in Georgia, that she disagreed with him on several policies, and that “no one hand feeds me.” To the latter, she said that despite Bloomberg’s largesse, “right now” she only supports Manchin-Toomey legislation, which calls for universal background checks.
While Nunn promised to “work with whoever is the president, Democrat or Republican,” Perdue called for “a hard right hand turn” in Washington.
The real question is, is that where the voters of Georgia are? Admittedly, I tend to operate within an echo chamber with a liberal bias, but I have seen no evidence that six more years of unapologetic obstructionism by Congressional conservatives is what the American people want. Time and again, in poll after poll, voters blame the stubborn Republicans for our nation’s legislative failures. The president may be at 41% approval, but Congress remains in or near the single digits. In that type of relative atmosphere, Obama may be underwater, but at least he doesn’t have to come up as far for air.
Despite my wishes and the expressed desires of many of my friends, there is no doubt Georgia is a conservative state. Sadly, it often seems our politicians would feign ignorance unbecoming their level of education, just so they can be mouthpieces for the one-percenters who fund their campaigns, and promise continued quid pro quo support once elected. We’ll know by January just how far right we are allowing our politicians to take us.
In the summer of 2013, weeks before Michelle Nunn announced her run for the U.S. Senate, a nationally recognized Democratic VIP asked me if I thought she would fulfill the rumors and finally throw herself into the race. Referring to the extremely right wing members of Georgia’s House delegation who had joined the Republican field of candidates, he punctuated his question by saying, “With all those crazy people running, she could actually win this thing.”
By the end of the GOP primary and subsequent runoff, all the “crazy people” had fallen, leaving Romney-esque businessman David Perdue as the Republican nominee, meaning Nunn had to find something besides the sanity card to play in the lead up to November.
With all due respect to the aforementioned Democratic vizier, anyone who expects the Georgia Democratic nominee for Senator to fail because she doesn’t have a foe with “loser” tattooed on their face, doesn’t understand that Michelle Nunn will win on her own strengths and merits, not because of her family name, and not because of a lame opponent.
In the South, you don’t win elections based on who you are or what you say, as much as what you do, meaning how you show up in the community. Nunn shows up big in the wide spectrum of communities that matter to Georgians, from the needy to the corporate giants that dominate this state, like Delta Airlines, Coca Cola and Home Depot.
Her campaign has not only received donations from R.E. “Ted” Turner – who recently donated $20,000 to her Super PAC – but also from Arthur Blank (Home Depot co-founder and owner of the Falcons), real estate developers Tom Cousins (Cousins Properties), Jim Cox Kennedy (Cox Enterprises), and John Wieland (John Wieland Homes). With the exception of Turner, as Bloomberg reported last fall, they all have something else in common – they’ve given heavily to Republicans in recent cycles, including to Romney in 2012 and Georgia’s other senator, Johnny Isakson (R), in 2010.
“Michelle understands that middle ground, and that’s why we wrote the checks,” Wieland explained to Bloomberg, last year.
It’s not only the political “middle ground” that Nunn gets, but the social middle ground as well. The volunteer organization she started 25 years ago, Hands On Atlanta, works directly with United Way to provide willing hands for the charity organization’s many good works, including helping the homeless, veterans and battered women and families. That is where her heart is.
Michelle’s other connection to corporate Georgia comes directly through the organization’s corporate partners. These are not just blind dollars going into a charity’s coffer. United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta creates a community for its friends, including regular breakfast meetings where volunteer community leaders mix with the corporate community. Besides Cox, Delta and Coke, other million dollar United Way of Atlanta supporters include AT&T, Wells Fargo and UPS.
The other positive her work with Hands On has brought her is the outcome of the group’s merger with the Points of Light Foundation, where she was CEO. It has brought her into the room with presidents, including President George H.W. Bush whose words inspired the founding of the organization.
Recently, Nunn has been under fire from Perdue’s supporters because of her insistence on using photos of her with the elder Bush in ads, as a demonstration of her bipartisanship. Bush 41’s camp has repeatedly requested her not to use the photo, as the former president has publicly thrown his support to fellow Republican Perdue. But it’s likely that endorsement was out of party unity, and not because of any animus toward Nunn.
When the GOP started accusing her of running an organization that “gave money to organizations linked to terrorists,” current Points of Light CEO and son of G.H.W. Bush, Neil Bush, reacted angrily.
“It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September, “whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office.” He added:
“Neither Points of Light nor Michelle Nunn have had anything to do with funneling money from our organization to terrorists organizations. Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”
The Democratic nominee is out with a new ad that again shows a photo of her with Bush 41, but also one with her standing near the last President Bush, and one with President Obama, to bolster her claim that she can “work with Republicans and Democrats.”
The Nunn ad is a counter to a commercial for Perdue featuring a photo of Obama’s arm around Nunn, implying she’ll be a “rubber stamp” for his policies. In her spot, Nunn says the photo of her and Obama was taken at the same event as the photos of her and the elder Bush, so instead of showing her allegiance to our president, it demonstrates her bipartisan approach.
Indeed, in his earlier defense of Michelle Nunn, Neil Bush went on to praise Nunn for demonstrating “the right kind of visionary leadership – a non-partisan or bipartisan approach to our service world.”
It is precisely that approach to serving the public at all levels that makes her such an appealing candidate, and why she has been leading in the most recent three polls, albeit within the margin-of-error. Her work demonstrates she is authentically engaged in making the world a better place for everyone, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat.
Perdue’s outsourcing debacle and his stated pride in that activity points to the real problem with the Republican playbook in Georgia – an awareness by the rank and file that the economy may be doing well for the wealthy, but remains stagnant for everyone else. As reports surfaced recently of a secretive Swiss investment fund for multimillionaires being part of his portfolio, it threatens to expose him as an elitist fat cat who doesn’t think blue collar jobs matter.
Politico posted a report from Georgia, Thursday, where they examined why the outsourcing attacks are taking a toll on Perude’s campaign:
“Nunn, in an interview after an event in Decatur[, Georgia,] this week, called Perdue ‘out of touch’ with Georgia citizens. ‘I was surprised at his response, and I think most Georgians have been whether by starting out by saying he was proud of his career in outsourcing or then moving forward and saying that Georgians didn’t understand business.'”
“Republicans are supposed to be the party of American business and the economy and all that,” Augusta resident Elizabeth Grubbs told Politico, “but [Perdue]’s moving jobs overseas. It isn’t right.”
The 30 year old Waffle House waitress, who leans Republican, is unsure about Nunn, too, but recognizes the economy isn’t getting better. “It’s still crap,” she said.
The numbers bear that out, for Georgia. For the second month in a row, the state has been dead last, with the worst unemployment in the country, at least two points higher than the national numbers. The Wall Street Journal points out that the decline in manufacturing jobs in the Peach State in the last ten years is largely responsible for that.
Yet incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R), in a tight reelection race with State Sen. Jason Carter (D), has been running around touting Georgia’s number one status as a “place to do business.” So yes, given the tax breaks he has offered companies to relocate to Georgia, companies are coming here, but jobs are not. A good environment for business does not directly correlate to a good environment for jobs.
With low paying retail and service sector jobs filling the void, “don’t expect Ms. Nunn to stop her attacks any time soon,” warns the Wall Street Journal. “Outsourcing attacks may have become common among Democrats, but they seem to have particularly fertile ground in which to take root in Georgia.”
To be clear, there’s no Romney class jealousy, here. No one begrudges Perdue his millions, but in what way does his ability to make money for himself and his clients help most Georgians, other than the fat cats in this state whose own purses are sure to be padded if he wins? He will make a couple of hundred investors happy, but there are more than 6 million of us who have a stake in Georgia. Both David Perdue and Nathan Deal ignore us at their own peril, and to the detriment of their party, which is due to flame out in Georgia in the next few years, anyway. They’re just the ones driving the train as it derails.
After mere days of Republican mouthpieces like the volatile Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) calling for the president to anoint an “Ebola Czar” to give an appearance of executive oversight on the health crisis, Obama decided Friday, to name Ron Klain, a “savvy politician” to the position.
It was only a matter of time until the GOP realized that they would have been better off approving Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States, than deal with their misgivings about a Democratic worker bee whose appointment requires no check and balance from Congress.
Indeed, less than 24 hours after the announcement, Republicans assailed Klain as a politician, not a medical professional. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told CNN, “While the President’s pick may have the ear of the White House and experience from the campaign trail, I am concerned he doesn’t have significant relationships in the medical community that are imperative during this current biological emergency.”
McCaul, who is chair of the House Homeland Security Committee went on to call for the president to “create a permanent position within the government to coordinate the response,” CNN said.
But again, there already is a permanent position to coordinate a medical response – the Surgeon General. McCaul’s colleagues on the Hill won’t let it through because the nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, once called guns a public health crisis, so the pistol packers at the National Rifle Association warned lawmakers they would score the confirmation vote.
Politico reports that 29 House Democrats, who don’t get a vote in the confirmation process on the other side of the Capitol, wrote a letter to both Senate party leaders, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), urging Dr. Murthy’s nomination forward. “Given the public’s increasing fears regarding the spread of the disease,” the letter says, “it is imperative that we confirm a Surgeon General who will play a significant role in educating the American public about the disease.”
President Obama echoed that concern in his Saturday weekly radio address. “This is a serious disease,” he said, “but we can’t give in to hysteria or fear-because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science.”
Ahh, science – the process that comforts the rational and confounds the fearful. But comfort doesn’t excite voters nearly as effectively as fear.
That may be why even some Democrats are now calling for travel restrictions from the West African countries where the virus is prevalent. Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, Thursday, called for at least a “temporary travel ban to affected countries in West Africa with an exception for military and health workers,” but went on to admit that “Scientists and public health experts at the CDC are in the best position to guide our response to this crisis.”
The president, Saturday, said he does not agree with taking that drastic step:
“Trying to seal off an entire region of the world-if that were even possible-could actually make the situation worse. It would make it harder to move health workers and supplies back and forth. Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track.”
Fear is not the appropriate response, but it is very American, in the sense that nothing happening in the world seems to matter until it happens to us. This is a classic American pitfall, where we reach for a mask of ugly paranoia because of our own self importance.
To borrow a slogan from McCain’s ill fated 2008 presidential campaign, “America First” is where we always get tangled up. If we are first, who is second? Third? More importantly, which population is the last we consider worthy of attention and concern until the desperation and disease imbued in their toxic poverty creeps onto our shores? They’ve been slammed by a sledgehammer and we turn away, but cry at our own pin prick.
Make no mistake. “Ebola is truly scary,” as University of Chicago social services professor, Harold Pollack, wrote in Politico, Sunday. But he urged us to keep the situation in perspective:
“It has so far killed nearly 4,500 people, overwhelmingly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—societies that had already experienced more than their fill of sorrow. There are only three confirmed cases in the United States: Two American nurses were infected in Dallas after they cared for a severely ill Ebola patient who had contracted the disease in Liberia. In Africa, it’s a disaster; within the United States, however, Ebola is a tragic, but eminently containable public health threat that requires a calm, methodical response.”
Pollack goes on to say that given the facts about the disease, and the infinitesimally small rate of infection in the United States, we should be more concerned about how alarmist our media is making the situation. “If you’re just tuning in,” he added, “you might believe that America has lost its mind.”
The phrase “abundance of caution” has been prevalent in stories about Ebola. People vomit on airplanes all the time, but now, we lock them in bathrooms. We close schools and bridal stores for a disease that is not communicable except through direct contact with bodily fluids. That’s not “caution;” it’s rationalized paranoia.
The good news for Dr. Murthy and his supporters is his nomination vote may be scheduled after election day, when the NRA’s scoring threat has less immediate impact. Still, if control of the Senate is not settled until runoffs complete in January, it is less likely Reid will bring it to the floor with all the other items of business the Congress must get done before the new year.
Meanwhile, the “calm, methodical response” that Pollack calls for is expected in the person of Mr. Klain, which is why an administrator rather than a scientist is what is required, here. Inasmuch as we now have an Ebola czar, he has our blessings. Those who are still railing against him do so only to fill the echo chamber of paranoia and hate.
“You have to understand that this is an election year… It’s a political game. When you are in charge, when you are the one making the shots, you’re going to do what’s in your best interest to maintain your power.”
- State Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D), of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, after a recent meeting with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office is allegedly holding up processing thousands of voter registration forms
There is no such thing as a sure bet in gambling, but there is one thing in politics that has great odds. Those who control ballot access usually win. Gerrymandering is only one popular tool lawmakers use to achieve a victory for those in power. It is a thumb on the scale for electoral homogeneity.
Then there are the more nefarious laws that impede a voter’s access, like requiring voter ID. The governor of Pennsylvania made an infamously outrageous admission to that effect during the 2012 presidential campaign, stating that was the express purpose of his state’s voter ID law.
In Georgia, the Secretary of State is believed to be holding up processing 51,000 voter registrations acquired and submitted by an organization called New Georgia Project, a left leaning group led by Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptists Church (Martin Luther King, Jr’s former pulpit) and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta). In total, the group has submitted 85,000 forms from across Georgia.
The reason for the hold up of voter registration forms, according to Secretary Brian Kemp’s office, is “The presence of” 25 “confirmed forgeries… Each instance of forgery can result in multiple felonies and the Office of the Secretary of State has a constitutional obligation to pursue every illegal act to the full extent of the law.”
Therefor, NGP has been subpoenaed by investigators to come up with reams of information by this Friday. Kemp’s spokesman, Jared Thomas, admitted to MSNBC, “that investigators had no evidence suggesting that NGP as an organization was responsible for the fraud. ‘We have not found anything that leads us to believe that this was orchestrated by leadership of the group,’ Thomas said.”
Thomas’ claim means that it is not NGP, but “alleged voter registration fraud by some workers” in the organization that is being investigated, the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out.
The allegations do not necessarily point to some grand conspiracy on the part of Georgia’s Democrats. Both the AJC and MSNBC cite “national experts” who say that in registration drives like this, “it is not unusual to have some problematic forms.”
Kemp’s objectivity was questioned after he told a Republican Party rally in July that his party was going to be challenged in the upcoming elections by voter registration drives conducted by left leaning groups, like the NGP. GOP stalwarts enjoy a good dog whistle, so Kemp made sure his comments included more ACORNs than fell on Ashley Wilkes’ head at Twelve Oaks.
“Everybody remembers ACORN, right,” he rhetorically asked those at the meeting, then refreshed their memories with the hit job the GOP put on the defunct community services group. “When ACORN was out registering people to vote, they were filling out applications. They were sending stuff in. You don’t know who these people are, where they’re from, the people they’re registering and the people that are filling those out.”
To be fair, Kemp was using the ACORN example as a counter to the perceived authenticity of a state administered web and smartphone voter registration app manged by his office. But his inference was clear that old fashioned, grassroots voter registration drives, where organizations go door-to-door to sign up new voters, were legitimately questionable from the start, because their methods resemble ACORN’s.
“You know, the Democrats are working hard,” he warned the party faithful, “You hear all these stories about them registering all these minority voters that are out there, and others that are sitting on the sidelines. If they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” He then instructed them to get out their cellphones and get folks registered through a process he promised his office would certify.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), who is in a very tight reelection battle against Democratic State Sen. Jason Carter, is leaving it up to Kemp to see this through, but that hasn’t kept him from injecting himself into another Georgia 2014 electoral controversy.
Three Georgia counties, and possibly a fourth, including heavily Democratic DeKalb County, have decided to open at least one polling place on the last Sunday of early voting in the state. Sunday voting has not been an option in the Peach State since advanced voting was implemented in 2008.
The irony is that if it weren’t for the Supreme Court striking down the preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, last year, the counties would not have been able to make these voting changes unilaterally. They would have had to have gone through the U.S. Department of Justice.
That is irksome to state Republican lawmakers. State Rep. Fran Millar, from the small portion of DeKalb that is not a haven for Democrats, vented on his Facebook page that at least one of the places open for voting that Sunday is “dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches” and he promised to “try to eliminate this election law loophole [during the next legislative session] in January.”
Besides the heavily African American area that Millar was complaining about, DeKalb’s acting CEO, Lee May, also added Sunday voting to two other parts of the county where there are Republican voters.
Rather than encouraging other counties to take similar action and expand ballot access statewide, Millar found it more prudent to complain about people he’s afraid of having a say in who controls Georgia. “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters,” he wrote in response to several comments on his ill conceived post. Despite his later correcting himself, saying he meant “informed” not “educated,” there is little doubt he has no problem with poorly educated Whites voting.
Deal has vowed to close that “loophole” in the 2015 state legislative session, if he’s still governor. After all, what good is being able to write the rules to the game if you can’t change them to your advantage?
“It apparently has a partisan purpose,” Deal told reporters earlier this month, pointing to the heavily Democratic areas where the precincts are scheduled to be open, October 26. Then the man who signed the bill prior to the 2012 election cutting the early voting period in half, added, without a hint of sarcasm, “I don’t think anything that has to do with elections should be tilted one way or the other for partisan purposes.”
Expectations always lead to attachment, and attachment, the Buddha tells us, leads to suffering. So it is with the faith we put in the man who we expected to be a new kind of president, one who was deliberative and thoughtful, who we thought was compassionate and fair. Indeed, he often exhibits those qualities, personally.
However, his inability to implement them into a Great Society or New Deal kind of policy, which is what, I think, most of us hoped for when we rallied to him in 2008, means we are left with squandered opportunity. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as excited about another presidential candidate in my lifetime as I was about Barack Obama.
The good news is, we can do something about our collective disappointment, but I’ll get to that a little later.
Granted, it hasn’t all been his fault. For most of his presidency, he has had a recalcitrant congress, and even meaningful bills that made it through the House, like the DREAM Act, died in filibusters on the Senate floor.
He has been more political in his calculus than I believe most of us thought he would be, especially since he lost the House and a filibuster-proof Senate in 2010. That loss is directly attributable to the agonizing effort it took to pass the Affordable Care Act, and the unwillingness of congressional Democrats to do anything too risky before Obama’s first midterm, even though they could have easily passed it. Issues like gun control, minimum wage, raising revenue, marriage equality and immigration reform sat on the back burner because Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were afraid of the electoral consequences if they took them up.
Even passing Obama’s stimulus package, to help us out of the Great Recession, which should have been a no-brainer for Democrats, was like pulling teeth, and ended up being hamstrung because of Obama’s compulsion to make it more bipartisan.
It reminds me of a key strategy of backgammon that someone once imparted: if you are in a position to bear off your pieces, don’t fuck around incrementally moving them into better position; just move them off. Why? Because you never know how good your opponent’s next roll will be. You know, like the Republicans did under George W. Bush, when they had the White House and both Houses of Congress, they passed huge tax cuts. Twice.
So here we sit, with immigration reform punted, an unsympathetic farm bill that cut billions from nutritional assistance programs, no cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage, and on the eve of another round of prolonged military action in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
I firmly believe that if the president had gotten more done to help people in the first two years of his administration, he wouldn’t be so far underwater in his latest poll numbers, at real risk of losing Democratic control in Congress, and making it impossible to accomplish anything in his last two years.
That brings us to the reason attachment is suffering. By attaching our emotions to other people and circumstances, we come to depend on their power for our happiness. You don’t have to be a Wayne Dyer fan to get that in a relatively free society like ours, the only person in control of your happiness is the one you see in the mirror every morning. (I’ve gotten flack for statements like that before. I realize that real, daily subjugation and control by an authoritarian figure or a tragic circumstance of life is impossible for many to overcome. That isn’t the kind of suppressed determination I mean.)
I, for one, am not resigned to the inevitability of a failed presidency from the man who promised hope. I am not resigned that the best I can say about President Obama’s tenure is he obviously tried. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'”
I may be detaching from my expectations of Obama, but I am far from disengaged from the possibility of a government committed to the progressive values I believe in. The government’s gridlock has no chain around my legs, no muzzle on my mouth. I remain committed to getting voters registered and getting them to the polls for the upcoming midterm elections. It’s something I can do for my state and my country.
If you think about it, that is what President Obama has been asking us to do all along: be engaged. His numerous policy tours – over jobs, minimum wage and pay equity, to name a few – were meant to rally the troops, get us to create a critical mass by contacting our representatives in Congress, to get them to do the right thing.
I don’t think we need the president to tell us once again, “Don’t boo. Vote!” Even if it is he who is being jeered, I think Obama would say the same thing. “Don’t boo. Vote!”
Your vote is your voice, louder than all the special interest money in the world, and together we can reach a conventional wisdom shattering crescendo, but we have to show up.
“I’m so proud,” Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and State Sen. Jason Carter told a voter registration rally in Atlanta, Monday, “to be on the side that says, ‘If more people vote, we win.'”
Register. Vote. Win. It’s something you can do, without waiting for Washington. Besides, it’s your duty as an American.
It’s a battle on two fronts, necessitated by the Supreme Court’s decision, last year, to nullify the pre-clearance formula sections of the Voting Rights Act, in Shelby County v. Holder. That left Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott free to pursue what is alleged to be targeted, minority voter disenfranchisement.
On Tuesday, the United States Department of Justice joins other plaintiffs, including Texas voters and candidates, in Veasey v. Perry, challenging the Lone Star State’s quick-trigger, post-Shelby resumption of its previously struck voter ID law. Later this fall, DoJ will participate in another round of Perez v. Perry, the case which alleges the state’s 2011 redistricting plan is discriminatory, giving Texas’ rising Latino minority less representation in government than they are actually due.
A verdict for the plaintiffs in either case could allow Justice to place Texas back on the pre-clearance list for ten years, a “bail in” under Section 3 of the VRA, since, the DoJ maintains, it would demonstrate a persistent pattern of minority voter discrimination. It is their only recourse, since Congress won’t act on a new pre-clearance formula.
“If the federal courts in either the redistricting or voter identification cases find that the State of Texas should be covered by Section 3(c),” a 2013 DoJ press release stated, “then the State would be required to submit voting changes to the U.S. Attorney General or to the federal court for review prior to implementation to ensure that the changes do not have a discriminatory effect or a discriminatory purpose.”
Observers say this presents a real test to the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, since, as Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice writes, “Section 3 has not been widely used to date, and there is comparatively little guidance in case law on when and how to apply the ‘bail in’ provisions of section 3. The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason.”
In Veasey, which is being tried in Federal District Court in Corpus Christi, the plaintiffs claim the voter ID law, known as SB 14, places an undue burden on voters because driver’s licenses and gun permits (another acceptable form of state ID – student IDs are no longer accepted) are “obtainable only from a limited number of sources or locations, often inconvenient and expensive.”
Further, they contend, Latin and African American minorities bear more of this burden than others, because when attempting to match names on voter rolls with state-issued ID holders, they found that “20.7% of black voters and 17.5% of Hispanic voters cannot be matched, while only 10.9% of Anglo voters cannot be matched.”
Texas claims SB 14 is supposed to prevent voter fraud, the law’s proponents argue. But according to one former attorney in the state’s Voting Rights Act compliance office, in-person fraud is very rare. “Across the country,” Joseph Kulhavy told Bloomberg Businessweek, “these in-person voter fraud cases can be counted on one hand. Texas won’t be able to find instances where the outcome of an election turned on illegally cast votes.”
Indeed, according to Business week, Kulhavy revealed that:
“In the past five years, Texas has detected about 60 cases of election fraud, with only one or two instances of in-person voter impersonation, the only fraud addressed by photo IDs.”
Perez is a little more complicated. It is the first of the two actions in which Attorney General Eric Holder announced the participation of the Justice Department, post-Shelby, but it was originally filed before the 2012 elections, challenging Texas’ 2011 redistricting map.
A panel of judges came up with changes to the redistricting map, which the state legislature adopted in 2013, with minor changes. The plaintiffs complain that even the new map does not address the way Texas lawmakers originally drew the lines, purposely supplanting minority voters who have a history of showing up at the polls with those who don’t vote. That way, the plaintiffs contend, a district will appear to have the correct number of potential minority voters, but they will have less chance of having minority representation.
One only has to look as far as the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to understand that when a majority-minority community doesn’t show up at the polls, it doesn’t get represented in government.
The San Antonio court where the case is being heard has split Perez into three to four separate hearings, which the parties agreed to “for the sake of not going crazy,” according to an August post in the Texas Election Law Blog.
The blogger explains:
“The first issue (the 2011 Texas House redistricting plan) was the subject of a six-day hearing that began on July 14th of this year. The second issue (the 2011 U.S. Congressional House district reapportionment) was the subject of a week-long hearing that began on August 11th. The third issue will be considered at an as-yet unscheduled hearing, followed by a possible fourth and final hearing to resolve the State’s liability, if any is found.”
The upcoming hearing, Phase III, if you will, addresses the redistricting map the legislature approved in 2013. By interfering with the court’s 2012 map, Texas Election Law Blog writes, the state’s lawmakers “allegedly ‘packed and cracked’ [House District 90, part of Fort Worth] in a manner similar to some of the objectionable 2011 districts.”
Whether or not Texas ends up back on pre-clearance would be the final phase of the trial. Meanwhile, for the upcoming midterms, the court ruled that the 2013 law would be in force during the election.
With two Section 2 lawsuits coming at Gov. Rick Perry, Texas may feel singled out, but DoJ has taken similar actions in North Carolina and, more recently, in Wisconsin and Ohio.
As far as Kulhavy is concerned, it’s no surprise that more than one action is being taken by the Justice Department to get Texas’ continuing pattern of discrimination recognized as a VRA violation. “Texas just provides such a target-rich environment for violations of the Voting Rights Act,” he told Businessweek.
Sky-high stakes in Texas voter ID trial (Zachary Roth, msnbc.com) Overview of Texas’ history with voter ID, going back to the 1970s
Eric Holder’s Suit Against Texas Gives the Supreme Court a Chance to Gut Even More of the Voting Rights Act (Jeffrey Rosen, New Republic) Given SCOTUS’ conservative majority, there’s a good chance DoJ will lose its Section 2 enforcement mechanism, and be at the mercy of Congress to re-work the formula for pre-clearance in Section 4.
New Report Shows Continued Pattern of Voting Rights Discrimination—African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American Voters More Vulnerable Than Ever (National Commission on Voting Rights) Report recognizes voter discrimination as an “ongoing problem in the United States.”